The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 attempts to streamline the unwieldy federal food regulation system, as does the similar Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. Both, however, are written as a “one size fits all” bill that would ramp up fees and regulation on all producers of food (and, in the case of the latter, drugs and cosmetics). The little guy who sells homegrown tomatoes or homemade soap at the farmers market would be subject to the same regulation as industrial giants, without the resources to implement it.
“There are legitimate problems that the large commercial producers – the peanut factory that ships around the country – those need to be better regulated,” said Judith McGeary, an Austin lawyer and board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “What we need is a very explicit, unambiguous, clear and broad exemption for small farmers and small producers – people who are making jams and breads for the local farmers market.”
Those exemptions aren’t in the current legislation. On the NAIS front, a House subcommittee hearing this month was “a disaster” for the local food movement, McGeary said. In the Texas Legislature, proposals to make NAIS voluntary at the state level, absent a federal mandate, are going nowhere.
Ironically, the food safety problems that cause such legitimate public concern are caused by large-scale, technology-driven industrial food production and distribution methods – precisely the sort of thing that local, sustainable farmers don’t engage in. Yet they are the ones who will suffer the most from these government attempts to solve a problem caused by bigness and technology by imposing more bigness and technology.
We do need better food safety regulation of major producers, but local family farms and artisans shouldn’t pay for sins they didn’t commit. Consumers need to have the small-farm alternative – and if they are going to preserve it, they have to contact federal and state legislators now.