Oh, what a colorful page. The United States Department of Agriculture has initiated a program encouraging all Americans and communities to relate to the food they eat, and to develop local sources. According to USDA news release 0465.09,
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today launched a new USDA website for the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative to continue the national conversation about developing local and regional food systems and finding ways to support small and mid-sized farms.
. . .
The ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative includes such major agricultural topics as supporting local farmers and community food groups; strengthening rural communities; enhancing direct marketing and farmers’ promotion programs; promoting healthy eating; protecting natural resources; and helping schools connect with locally grown foods. USDA also began a pilot program aimed at improving the health and wellness of federal employees by serving local, nutritious food at USDA cafeterias.
Of course, localization and encouraging small and medium sized farms seems to contradict the effort captured by the house-passed H.R. 2749 Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. According to the Congressional Research Service (part of the Library of Congress), as reported on GovTrac.us:
Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 – Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to set forth provisions governing food safety. Requires each food facility to: (1) conduct a hazard analysis; (2) implement preventive controls; and (3) implement a food safety plan. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to: (1) issue science-based performance standards to minimize the hazards from foodborne contaminants; (2) establish science-based standards for raw agricultural commodities; (3) inspect facilities at a frequency determined pursuant to a risk-based schedule; (4) establish a food tracing system; (5) assess fees relating to food facility reinspection and food recall; and (6) establish a program for accreditation of laboratories that perform analytical testing of food for import or export. Authorizes the Secretary to: (1) order an immediate cessation of distribution, or a recall, of food; (2) establish an importer verification program; and (3) quarantine food in any geographic area within the United States. Defines the term “color additive” to include carbon monoxide that may affect the color of fresh meat, poultry products, or seafood. Requires country of origin labeling on food and annual registration of importers. Provides for unique identifiers for food facilities and food importers. Deems a food to be adulterated if an inspection is delayed or refused. Requires the Secretary to establish a corps of inspectors dedicated to inspections of foreign food facilities. Sets forth provisions governing the reorganization of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) field laboratories and district offices. Gives the Commissioner of Food and Drugs subpoena authority with respect to a food proceeding. Establishes whistleblower protections.
The scary part of this is the immense penalties – suitable for someone contaminating food for hundreds of millions of people – on someone with a backyard garden, selling at a roadside stand or farmers market, or a retailer that sells food or something that might go into food – animal or people food – that isn’t regulated as a restaurant. Or that hauls food. Note the required and surprise warrantless inspections, required certifications (and associated testing), record keeping. All things that seem intended to run everyone but Monsanto’s ten biggest customers out of food production. And surprise, Monsanto had a hand in drafting the bill.
Not that I am bitter.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has been considering this bill since August 3, 2009, after the House passed it July 30, 2009.
And, yes, I did email Senator Harkins (D-IA), committee chair, about exempting local producers and local produce distributors.