[permaculture] "the-real-nitty-gritty-on-small-farms-and-food-safety-bill"

Keith Johnson keithdj at mindspring.com
Sat Dec 4 23:43:37 EST 2010



    And what if the small producers simply ignore the whole thing, and
    don't produce all the documentation needed to register and conform
    with the "guidance document" and participate in the study and be
    part of the GAP program? Presumably they'd be subject to the very
    strict penalties articulated in S. 510, which is up to 10 years'

    I hate to be a cynic, because I like to think that supporters of
    this amendment have had the best interests of smaller food
    producers in mind in pushing for an exemption. But when you review
    the fine print, you can't help but conclude that Tester-Hagan
    represents an unprecedented intrusion by government into the lives
    of small farms and food producers.


    With respect to farms, the exemption is simpler. Under the
    Tester-Hagan amendment, a qualifying farm -- one that grosses
    under $500,000 and sells more than half its products directly to
    qualified end users -- is exempt. Period. There is no need to
    provide special documentation or go through any process, beyond
    putting a label or displaying a sign with the farm's name and

    Without the Tester-Hagan amendment, under S. 510, these farms
    would be subject to the produce safety standards or, as Gumpert
    discusses, what is often termed "good agricultural practices" or
    GAPs. With Tester-Hagan, these small, direct-marketing farms do
    NOT have to comply with GAPs.


    Nothing in S. 510 changes the underlying reality that FDA has
    broad authority, already, to visit any farm or facility where they
    suspect any kind of food safety issue.

    The ongoing debates about raw milk, raw-milk cheeses, and how FDA
    treats bacteria more strictly than they do chemical residues and
    genetically-engineered foods are not going away, whether this bill
    ultimately passes or not. But those issues are not at the heart of
    the bill, nor are they the reason the Tester amendment was
    proposed and supported by many sustainable agriculture groups.


    the reassurances people are offering now count for nothing.
    Everyone affected by this legislation has to assume the provision
    is there for a reason, and will be carried out.

    Nor has anyone said anything about what the "guidance document"
    that FDA must produce within a year might contain. I presume
    that's because no one knows, and didn't choose to let their
    imaginations go a little like I did.

    Many farmers will essentially be on the defensive, potentially
    vulnerable if the FDA decides for some reason to do a sweep (as it
    did earlier this year on more than 100 cheesemakers).

    Bottom line, the FDA controls the exemption process, and is under
    mandate to collect vast amounts of new data about smaller
    enterprises, many of which will likely be farms. We can hope the
    agency is benevolent, but that is not its history.


    under existing law, the farmer who makes a few jars of jam from
    his produce and sells them at a farmers market may have to
    register with the FDA under the Bioterrorism Act because he
    doesn't qualify as either a "farm" or a "retail food
    establishment." The same is true for the small-scale bread-maker
    or cheese-maker. And under S. 510, that
    farmer/bread-maker/cheese-maker would have to go through the full
    HACCP-type process. Under the Tester-Hagan amendment, that
    farmer/bread-maker/cheese-maker would now be exempt from both the
    registration requirement and the HACCP process as a "retail food

    it is, at its heart, damage control. That isn't the fault of Sens.
    Tester or Hagan or any of the people who advocated for this
    amendment. It's due to agribusiness's capture of FDA and much of
    Congress --  a problem that has developed over decades and that we
    will need to spend the next decade fighting.


Keith Johnson
"Be fruitful and mulch apply."
Permaculture Activist Magazine
PO Box 5516, Bloomington, IN 47407
(812) 335-0383
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