Lame duck Congress to debate controversial new food bill giving Homeland Security authority over the FDA
Late last week the Senate voted for cloture on S 510–the Food Safety Modernization Act–by a margin of 74-25 with little to no fanfare whatsoever. Every Democrat voted in favor of this bill and they were joined by fourteen Republicans, including my retiring Senator, Judd Gregg. On the surface this bill looks benign, after all we all want to make sure that our food sources are safe right? But there are some questions and controversies related to this bill and that is probably why the Senate has moved stealthily on this bill.
This bill would expand the role of both the FDA and Department of Health and Human Services, but even more worrisome is the fact that Section 109 of this bill would place the FDA under the Department of Homeland Security. This bill may not be as benign as it appears.
This bill would usher in sweeping new regulations over just about everybody who grows and sells food, with the exception of large farms and restaurants–they were granted an exemption, strangely enough–and appears to be aimed at small growers who probably sell some food to the local farmers market.
(2) require that each person (excluding farms and restaurants) who manufactures, processes, packs, distributes, receives, holds, or imports an article of food permit inspection of his or her records if the Secretary believes that there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to such food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
So large farms are exempt from these new regulations and this bill is supposedly being passed to prevent widespread food borne illnesses? How many people who have become sick during the recent food recalls received the tainted food from the local farmers market? That answer would be zero. So why then does this bill exempt the farms where contamination is most likely to occur while unfairly targeting the little guy?
Because this bill is about more than just food safety, it is about controlling the food sources. It is about cracking down on those people who have the gall to grow their own food and sell some of it to local markets without first having to be overburdened by restrictive government regulations. These people are not mass producing food where there is a higher likelihood of contamination, yet they are being targeted because the government wants more control over what they grow and what the American people eat.
So who supports this bill and who opposes it? Here is a look at some of the organizations that support S 510: General Mills, Kraft Foods North America, National Association of Manufacturers and 25 more organizations. While it is opposed by: American Grassfed Association, Family Farm Defenders, Small Farms Conservancy 93 others.
It is quite telling that large manufacturers support this legislation while small growers oppose it. This bill would put unfair burdens on local growers; if you enjoy getting fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market–foods that were grown locally and are as fresh as can be–you may be out of luck as this bill could regulate those growers out of business.
What is going on here? Why is this such a high priority in the lame duck Congress? The Congress is looking to reconcile this bill and send it to the president for his signature before the lame duck Congress is over. There has to be a reason for this; I think that we can all agree that there are much more important issues that the Congress should be dealing with right now–from jobs and the economy to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts–it seems odd to me that this would be the issue that the Congress would focus on.
And speaking of jobs and the economy, imposing more regulations and fees on the small farmer and grower is going to cost some of them jobs as well as causing the prices of food to rise. Is that any way to help a struggling economy? Are rising food costs what struggling Americans need right now? I don’t think so.
The American people do not know much about this bill as it is being rushed quietly through the Congress and it is on track to be signed into law before the lame duck Congress ends and before the American people even know what is going on. This bill must be stopped and if there is to be a debate on S 510 it needs to take place during the new Congress, after the people have had a chance to read about and learn about this bill.
Barack Obama promised to have the most transparent administration in history, but this bill is silently making its way through the Congress unbeknownst to a vast majority of the American people. If Barack Obama and the Congress were serious about transparency they would slow down this bill in order to give the American people the chance to have a look at it, and the only way to do that would be to wait until the new Congress is seated. Yet they feel the need to get this bill done quickly and I for one do not trust them at all.
The federal government went after healthcare first and we are already beginning to see the horror stories emerge even before the bill has been fully implemented–do we really want them taking more control over our food supply in general, and the local growers specifically?