Yesterday I posted a diary that got nearly no attention. And that's fine, usually. I've got no ego problems with a diary falling off the page with 13 comments. But this time it's not about me. It's about food safety and the well-being of our nation's small, sustainable farms.
At this point the issue is old and stale. I understand if you're sick of it. I'm sick of it. But now's the crucial time to take one last (god I hope) final action to get the Senate to make the food safety bill better before the full Senate votes on it next week. As it stands now, the bill does a lot for food safety, but it also has provisions that can put small, sustainable farms out of business.
I've written an action alert that CREDO was kind enough to post. It sends a fax, which, at this stage in the game is quite critical because emails may not be read prior to next week's vote. Faxes will get there.
We need two things from this bill: We need it to do good (make food safe) and to not do harm (not eliminate small, organic farms that sell healthy, safe food by putting them out of business with heavy regulations). This alert is about the latter.
So here's my diary again. I'm sorry for re-posting. If you help me take action on this issue, I won't post it again.
Since the beginning of the food safety bill debate last year, a very vocal opposition to it arose from the sustainable food community. It made me rather upset because even if people shouldn't be eating some of the nasty, processed foods (or even healthy but grown-on-mega-farms unsustainable non-local foods) that are most susceptible to the mega-food-safety-outbreaks we've experienced in the past few years, THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY DESERVE TO DIE. Yes, we have a food safety problem in this country. Yes, we need reform.
Here's the catch though: We don't ALL need reform equally. As Michael Pollan cleverly put it, people have been getting sick from Aunt Mable's potato salad since time immemorial (or something like that). No law is going to get rid of ALL food safety incidents. Our goal oughta be the really low hanging fruit that impacts the majority of Americans. In other words, let's take care of the food system that provides food to 95% of Americans. Not the farmers markets and the CSAs, but the Krafts, Kelloggs, General Mills, etc, and their suppliers.
It's not that some tiny farmstand can't give their customers E. coli. They can. But if you compare the risk that small, sustainable farms impose (low) compared to the benefit of having them around to provide healthy, sustainable food (huge!), then it becomes a little bit silly to impose a regulation on them that might put them out of business. Furthermore, one of the regulations I'm most specifically talking about is a traceability system. Do you really need your farmer to document for Uncle Sam that she sold you the peaches you bought at the market? She knows she sold them to you, you know you bought them from her.
That is a world of difference away from buying a generic store brand ice cream made by god-knows-who, with peanut butter cups in it made by god-knows-who-else, made from peanut butter that was made by Peanut Corporation of America with salmonella in it. THAT is where we need a traceability system in place.
The most interesting thing I learned recently is that our nation had the exact same debate a century ago before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906 was passed. For decades prior to it, the country had a food safety problem. People were buying canned foods only to open them and discover they were little more than sawdust and food coloring plus a bit of actual food. Leading up to the publication of The Jungle, food companies began to come around about the law, however.
Food companies didn't change their minds because they wanted safe food. Rather, they figured a law would put their small competitors out of business (because the little guys couldn't afford to comply with the law and stay competitive) while simultaneously giving the public more confidence in the big guys. And that's what happened.
Point is, we don't want the same thing to happen here. We want real reform - and the bill gives us some - but not at the expense of good food. Sen. Tester, an organic farmer, proposed an amendment that would do a lot to help. My action alert is asking all Senators to vote for it. So please, please please please take action. Then tweet it, post it on facebook, etc, and get everyone else to take action too!