March 2009

According to an FDA Press Release, Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. announced today that it is voluntarily recalling from nationwide distribution specific lots of bulk roasted shelled pistachios and 2,000 lbs., 1,700 lbs., 1,800 lbs. and 1,000 lbs. tote bags of roasted inshell pistachios sold to wholesale customers due to potential contamination with the

The FDA and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are investigating Salmonella contamination in pistachio products sold by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc, Calif. The company has stopped all distribution of processed pistachios and will issue a voluntary recall involving approximately 1 million pounds of its products. Because the pistachios were used as

The contaminated pepper was packaged under the “Lian How” and “Uncle Chen” labels and sold to restaurant suppliers and markets – much of it going to Chinese and Vietnamese establishments.

Since December, 42 rare Salmonella Rissen infections have been reported in Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada. Public health officials in those states pooled their resources

Elissar Khalek – Food and Water Watch

The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn’t wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveals the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed, and distributed, it’s a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.

The dilemma of how to regulate food safety in a way that prevents problems caused by industrialized agriculture but doesn’t wipe out small diversified farms is not new and is not easily solved. And as almost constant food safety problems reveals the dirty truth about the way much of our food is produced, processed, and distributed, it’s a dilemma we need to have serious discussion about.

Most consumers never thought they had to worry about peanut butter and this latest food safety scandal has captured public attention for good reason – a CEO who knowingly shipped contaminated food, a plant with holes in the roof and serious pest problems, and years of state and federal regulators failing to intervene.

It’s no surprise that Congress is under pressure to act and multiple food safety bills have been introduced.

Two of the bills are about traceability for food (S.425 and H.R. 814). These present real issues for small producers who could be forced to bear the cost of expensive tracking technology and recordkeeping.

The other bills address what FDA can do to regulate food.

A lot of attention has been focused on a bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (H.R. 875), the Food Safety Modernization Act. And a lot of what is being said about the bill is misleading.

Here are a few things that H.R. 875 DOES do:


Continue Reading

The blogosphere has sounded the alarm warning that Congress and agribusiness and biotechnology lobbyists are conspiring to pass legislation that will force organic and local farms, and even home gardeners, out of business. What are the threats and opportunities, and how should we gear up to communicate with our congressional representatives?

There is no question that our increasingly industrialized and concentrated food production system needs a new regulatory focus. Contamination of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peanuts and other foods are an indictment of a food safety system that is out of control and has become dominated by corporate agribusiness and powerful insider lobbyists. Regulators at the FDA, USDA and other agencies have fallen short in their public safety responsibilities.

The public outcry over this situation has finally led some in Congress to propose remedies—and we should support strict oversight of the runaway industrial farming and food production system that is responsible for illnesses and deaths among our citizenry.

Although stakeholders in the organic community need to be on-guard, the flurry of e-mails and Internet postings suggesting that HR 875 will end organic farming as we know it seem to grossly exaggerate the risks. Here’s what we know:

Some level of reform is coming and we must work diligently to make sure that any changes do not harm or competitively disadvantage organic and local family farm producers and processors who are providing the fresh, wholesome and authentic food for which consumers are increasingly hungry.

Several bills aimed at fixing the broken food safety system have been proposed. Of these bills, the FDA Globalization Act (HR 759) appears most likely to be voted on, with elements of the other bills, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875) and the Safe FEAST Act (HR 1332) possibly incorporated into the bill.

A vote on a final bill shortly before Memorial Day is likely.

All three bills would require new food safety rules for farms and food processing businesses. Therefore, as with most legislation, the real battle will be in the rule-making process that follows the passage of the bill. We must stay engaged.

Anyone with an interest in food safety issues has probably seen or received emails charging that backyard gardens and organic farming would be outlawed by new food safety laws. We have closely read the proposed legislation, done extensive background research, and talked with the chief staff member responsible for the drafting of HR 875. Some have argued that this is a conspiracy promulgated by Monsanto and other corporate interests in conventional agriculture. It is our conclusion that none of these bills would “outlaw organic farming.” Other groups, such as Food and Water Watch and the organic certification agent CCOF have reached similar conclusions. But as we just noted, we need to be engaged in this process to protect organic and family farmer interests.

Also, concerns have been raised that these new laws don’t examine meat safety concerns. The USDA is responsible for much of the nation’s meat safety regulations. It does not appear that Congress, at this time, is prepared to address deficiencies involving meat.

HR 759, authored by John Dingell (D-MI), the House’s most senior member, is the bill that will be given priority by the House as they weigh food safety legislation. It proposes that all food processing facilities register with the FDA and pay annual fees, evaluate hazards and implement preventive controls of these hazards, monitor these controls and keep extensive records.

HR 759 would give authority to the FDA to establish “science-based” minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. These food safety standards would address manure use, water quality, employee hygiene, sanitation and animal control, temperature controls, and nutrients on the farm.

Such one-size-fits-all food safety rules, especially preventative measures, created with industrial-scale farms and processors in mind, would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage. A similar voluntary set of regulations in California have damaged the environment and hurt organic and fresh produce growers.

These high-quality, owner-operated, and often “local” farms are an important part of the solution to our nation’s food quality problems—not the cause—and they must be protected!

It should be noted that unlike conventional farms, organic producers are already highly regulated in managing manure by composting and other requirements that dramatically reduce pathogenic risk. Spinach, tomatoes, peppers, almonds, and peanuts are in no way inherently dangerous. These fresh and nutritious foods pose a risk only after they are contaminated, which is why new food safety legislation must address the underlying causes of food safety hazards.

Whatever the final legislation looks like, it must make clear that it is the intent of Congress to ensure that ensuing regulations will not disproportionately burden small-scale family farm producers and farmstead businesses that are the backbone of the local, sustainable and organic food movement.

Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem!


Continue Reading