just passed: the law against common sense

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay eagle eyes, I know 37¢ stamps are a little behind the times

_________________________________________________________________________

What? A law against common sense? You didn’t know?

I’m pretty sure it was.  Of course it’s secret. Voted in a closed-door session, announced quickly late on a Friday afternoon then completely ignored by mainstream media.

I’m talking about the Food Safety Modernization Act, but you can probably insert your own business or industry since there is so much crazy flying around who can be in the know about all of it?

Like all common sensical infrastructure we depend on for our very lives,  we know frightfully little about food AND food safety. But it must involve lots of plastic, right?  

I’m a little smitten with a phrase I read recently in the Small Farmer’s Journal: Civilian Agriculture. That’s right, Civilian Agriculture. Let that sink in for a minute. I’ve been chewing on that for several days.

It’s time for civilians to stand up and pay attention. We’re being distracted and disarmed by non-essential bickering and we need to get our focus back. The engagement of citizens is the missing element that can reverse the craziness.

Let’s shake off the Facebook glitter and Virtual reality goggles and roll up our sleeves. Write some letters. Pay attention. Dig deeper. Ask why. Go outside. Get dirty. Wonder.  Learn things. Do stuff. Help out.

At the moment, as in immediately, it’s time to do a little reading about the new Food Safety Modernization Bill. Sure it sounds like a good idea to have safer food systems. I’m all for it.

But does this new Food Safety Modernization Act deliver safety? Or is it one step closer towards life 4.0, the hermetically sealed edition?   Irony of ironies, methods organic farmers use to build healthy soil are the items being restricted. Synthetics? Safe, but of course. And gaping loopholes allowing a pass for some very risky industrial practices.

And, seriously. Fencing wildlife out of entire crops to prevent any pooping in the field?  Have you any idea how much that will cost? And what about our horse-farming Amish farmers who raise so much local produce? Diapers? Sigh…

The FDA and USDA have not been enforcing laws in a manner that gives me confidence in their ability to be reasonable, informed and fair. Not sure? Ask Linda Fallaice of Mad Sheep infamy, or heritage breed pig farmers in Michigan. Or maybe the Dean family of Pasture Maid Creamery… 

Giving them the ability to shut down at will farms and artisan food makers, impose large fees on farmers and producers, impose costly weekly lab testing and a policy of shut down & confiscate without proof will be the final straw for many small farmers and food processors.

There is no unified guideline, so enforcement will be a little wild-wild-west  with every official able to interpret as they see fit. I’m not in any way suggesting that small farmers be exempt from safety practices and regulation. Though I am in favor of not killing small sustainable farms for the sins of massive industrial ones.

And, let’s face it. The government agencies are not staffed to handle it. Our USDA offices are being run with skeleton staff. I’ve read a variety of estimates that only between 1 – 15% of foreign imports are actually inspected by the FDA because of understaffing.  And, of the foods inspected, inspectors have only around 30 seconds to spend per item.

To underscore my point, as I write this, the government link for comments, regulations.gov has been shut down due to temporary difficulties. Are you kidding me? It’s time to hit the big guns people, PEN & PAPER!

Sustainable farming is a low profit labor of love for most. The cost of land and equipment guarantees we are on track to have fewer and fewer farmers in the near future. The profit margin of the average small farm is about 10% – very low compared to other industries. Implementing the new Food Safety Modernization laws will cost a small farm an estimated 6% of that 10%.

The result is that the burgeoning small farm movement is in danger of being cut off at the knees. Of which the FDA is well aware and has stated is expected.

Odds are because  you are here, reading this, you already know this and have likely taken action. But maybe we can all, in these final days before the November 15 deadline, spread the word to as many unaware people as possible.

Time is literally running out. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has done a great job hustling up letter writing events an easy to follow guide to help you navigate the process. Check it out here.

The Cornucopia Institute has also published a useful white paper if you’d like to learn more. They are staunch fighters for the organic standard, and do their best to keep Corporate Organic on their toes.

This is a heavy season for food-centric deadlines, let’s not let it pass unchallenged.  Now, get out there and mail some letters  - ready, set, go, write! What are you waiting for? Hurry!

Am I missing anything? Let me know if you have a good source of information to share too.

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday.

It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food, fresh food production, consumption, activism, and awareness… not to mention a rant here and there…

You really should check it out: