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Guest Blog – Trula – Myths & Facts About HR 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act

There has been a lot of hysteria floating around about HR 875, a bill being put through in congress to further regulate food safety. I have been hearing so much about this all month, and decided not to make up my mind until I had a chance to read all the information. A friend on a mothering site I frequent posted info the co-op she works for sent out, which I think really clarifies the issue:

HR 875: Myths & Facts

Over the last few days, we’ve been hearing a lot about a bill in Congress called HR 875 and there is a wave of false information and hysteria being created that suggests HR 875 would eliminate organic back yard farms, make it illegal to grow organic product except for big businesses, and eliminate farmers markets. Nothing is further from the truth. The bill is actually mean to be a “place marker bill”. (This is a term meant to describe a piece of unwritten or far too basic legislation that is put on a congressional calendar, so that a more appropriate bill can be written and come up sooner. It’s kind of like asking someone to hold your place in line at a big event.)

The following is a quick synopsis of the myths and facts surrounding HR 875. Our thanks to Claudia Reid, Program Director of CCOF (http://www.ccof.org/foodsafety.php), and Food and Water Watch for this information. Berkshire Co-op Market is staying on top of this issue through our National Cooperative Grocers Association, and CCOF.  Food and Water Watch.

Myths and Facts: H.R. 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act

MYTH: H.R. 875 “makes it illegal to grow your own garden” and would result in the “criminalization of the backyard Gardner.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would regulate, penalize, or shut down backyard gardens. This bill is focused on ensuring the safety of foods sold in supermarkets.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would mean a “goodbye to farmers markets” because the bill would “require such a burdensome complexity of rules, inspections, licensing, fees, and penalties for each farmer who wishes to sell locally – a fruit stand, at a farmers market.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized any fines, or shut down.  Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill.  In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would result in the “death of organic farming.”

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would stop organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

MYTH: The bill would implement a national animal ID system.

FACT: There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system. Animal identification issues are under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

MYTH: The bill is supported by the large agribusiness industry.

FACT: No large agribusiness companies have expressed support for this bill. This bill is being supported by several Members of Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving farmers markets, organic farming, and locally-grown foods. Also, HR 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups, including:

* Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
* Center for Science in the Public Interest
* Consumer Federation of America
* Consumers Union
* Food & Water Watch
* The Pew Charitable Trusts
* Safe Tables Our Priority
* Trust for America’s Health

MYTH: The bill will pass the Congress next week without amendments or debate.

FACT: Food safety legislation has yet to be considered by any Congressional committee.

  • Judith

    While there is no language targeting farmers markets, if individual farmers and processors have to pay $2,000 a year each year, keep electronic records & do testing in the same exact fashion as Dole and other large industrial growers and processors (with their much deeper pockets) then it will indeed be the death of many if not most farmers markets. Our local market has between 30 and 70 vendors, depending upon the season and the crop, and not one of them could afford the fee, even once, let alone yearly. Many don’t have electricity and so cannot provide electronic records, etc.
    Currently many states have risk-based exemptions for products such as home canned jellies and home baked breads, or vinegars and dried herbs, which are by their nature at very low risk for contamination or disease.
    Without an exemption for this type of product, and an exemption for the truly small grower of fresh local produce, our market (and most across the country) would end up consisting only of the guy who builds picnic tables and the woman who sews purses. Very tasty dining.

  • Bix

    HR 875 does say records may be kept “in any format (including paper or electronic).”

  • Judith

    HR 759 (I think that’s the right#) does, and from reading elsewhere I’ve gathered that language is likely to be folded into this bill in conference. In any event, $2000 a year registration fees would still kill off most farmers market vendors in my state.
    And the peanut scandal could have been avoided with enforcement of laws already on the books, no?
    Something tells me corporations who are big enough to cherry-pick their testing results & have their ceo’s in the oversight chain would not miss that fee and will find other ways to game the system in the future.
    I’m here to tell you that if the peanut contamination had come from a small farmer the likes of who sell at farmers markets, two things would be different:
    1) no slack in regulating, inspection, pathogen testing or reporting would have been cut. Individual farmers don’t have that type of clout.
    2) the possible amount of contamination would have been minuscule by comparison. Individual farmers don’t have the time or money to cover something like that up (and for years!). And customers KNOW WHERE THEY GOT THEIR FOOD FROM when they buy it directly from the grower. Traceability is immediate: the chain only has one link in it.
    Those setting regulations need to get out more and realize not everyone makes the kind of money that they do, and the amount of people they would be putting out of business with one-size fits all fees.
    When your yearly gross income from selling produce is under $5000, paying the same registration fee as Dole is completely unfair, and feels calculated to shut out individual farmers completely.
    I don’t think that’s the intent; but it would be the result.

  • Marymary

    If the registration fee would be too high for small growers, couldn’t it be lowered based upon production, average yearly sales, or some similar standard? Why not a sliding scale fee?
    Food from small, local farms is not necessarily risk-free. While I understand that small producers cannot follow all of the rules, that does not mean that no rules should apply to them.
    Locally produced food is not safer merely because it is locally produced.