The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Fantle, 608-625-2042

Family Farmers Fear Being Run over by Food Safety Juggernaut

Organic and Local Farmers Seek Protections in Washington


Momentum is building in Congress for new food safety reforms aimed at
addressing the growing cycle of food contamination outbreaks. But
concerns are also being raised cautioning legislators not to trample organic
farmers, backyard gardeners, and consumers of fresh local foods in the rush to
fix the nation's food safety problems.

"There is no question that our increasingly
industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory
focus," said Will Fantle,
Research Director for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic food
and agriculture watchdog. "No one disputes that our food safety
system is broken," Fantle added.

In the last several years, contamination of bagged spinach,
lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, beef, and peanuts have sickened thousands of
Americans. And currently a massive recall of food products containing
pistachios is underway.

After years of industry-friendly regulations and
deteriorating budgets for inspections, holes in the food safety net have
prompted some in Congress to push for new laws and increased oversight.

The legislative process, however, has sparked a flurry of
internet and email activity, with some warning the agribusiness and biotechnology
lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation outlawing organic farming and home
gardens. One of the pending bills, The Food Safety Modernization Act (HR
875), sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), has been a lightning rod
for criticism.

As a result of the blowback Congresswoman DeLauro is
scrambling to assure organic advocates that they are not the target of her
bill: "The purpose of this bill is to improve the safety of
food products derived from large industrial processing facilities by increasing
the inspection frequency and safety standards at these plants."

Attempting to quell concerns in the blogosphere, which is
going viral, Congresswoman DeLauro also stated, "Organic farmers have a
strong record in providing safe, high quality foods to American families and I
will continue to work toward making sure that organic farming continues to

Hearings have already begun on food safety legislation in
the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the multiple bills being considered,
the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759), sponsored
by the most senior member of Congress, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), appears
most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including
DeLauro's, possibly incorporated into the bill.

"We have closely examined the various legislative
proposals and have been talking with our contacts in Congress," said
Fantle. "We don't believe that harming organic and local
producers is the intent of these bills, but we must engage consumers and local
food producers in this process to clearly express our concerns that a
'one-size fits all' regulatory focus could very well seriously
damage some of America's best growers of wholesome, fresh food,"
Fantle stated.

After the 2006 spinach contamination outbreak in California, that
affected consumers across the country, the state adopted a regulatory model that
has economically injured growers producing a diverse selection of fresh foods
for local markets. It is also caused vast environmental damage as farmers
are required to quarantine large tracts of land, removing vegetation and
wildlife. California's
"leafy greens" program has attracted interest at the U.S.
Department of Agriculture for possible national use.

Organic farmer Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, of Riverhead, NY, is
critical of this type of plan. "They are burdening produce growers
with the impossible task of 'sterilizing' their farms.We need good regulatory oversight
that doesn't penalize smaller-scale owner-operated farms of farmers and
marketers like me."

While some of the nation's food safety issues have
farm origins - largely due to the inability of huge industrialized
conventional livestock facilities to properly manage their mountains of manure,
contaminated with lethal pathogens - many E. coli and salmonella
outbreaks originate at processing facilities. This year's outbreak
of salmonella in peanut products has been traced to unsanitary conditions at a
massive processing plant. And now, the FDA has issued a warning
about contaminated pistachios, which appear to have also been tainted during
the processing or storage of the nuts or finished processed food products.

"We don't want organic family farmers to be made
scapegoats and lose their markets because of objectionable food treatment
practices or recalls put in place due to sloppy practices at giant food
processing facilities," said Dr. Jesse Schwartz, the President of Living
Tree Community Foods, a manufacturer of organic nut butters. "The
health and well-being of America,
its people, and the American land depend upon the stewardship of family farmers
who are the true husbandmen of their soil, plants, and animals."

The Cornucopia Institute is calling on
farmers and consumers to stand up for and protect organic and sustainable local
farmers. "Organic, local producers of high quality foods are part
of our nation's food safety solution-not part of the
problem," said Fantle.

Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association said that citizens,
who are seeking safer and nutritionally superior food are willing to pay a
premium for organics, and, "In order for consumers to have continued
access to this high quality food family size farmers must be protected from
regressive regulation."

An action alert released by Cornucopia
provides talking points and guidance for consumers and farmers interested in
contacting their legislators to urge protection of organic and local food
production. It can be found on Cornucopia's web page at

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.