Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Will the New Food Safety Bill Affect Organic Foods?

As the nation stands poised to watch the passing of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the question comes to mind, 'is this really a good thing?' and 'how will this effect me?'

The new food safety bill passed by the senate on Sunday is meant to take control of the industry and hold the large industrial agricultural companies accountable for the food they produce. There has been an alarming amount of product recalls and tainted foods that contain bacteria as dangerous as e.coli 157 H7 in their food. Up until this point, companies have tried whatever they could do in order to not be held responsible for any deaths or illnesses caused by their products. This legislation finally holds their feet to the fire.

The new legislation will finally give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to suspend production of those food facilities that do not meet inspection standards. It also allows for the government to recuperate the costs of a recall on a product. One of the major benefits is that this bill requires the Secretary of the FDA to set science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of raw fruits and vegetables. Up until this point, a lot of the industry regulations have been loose language guides that are open to an individual's opinion of what is considered to be safe. Having strict guidelines that all producers must be held accountable for can be a good thing, or it can also be a very bad thing as many small farmers and food activists can tell you.

Local DC area farmers that are not industrialized may suffer as a result of this bill. Horror stories from the organic food movement are detailed heavily in Joel Salatin's book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. He recounts stories of harassment from inspectors, for example a Department of Health and Human Services inspector insisting that all restaurants that bought Salatin's eggs throw them away because Polyface Farm does not wash the natural protective coating off of their eggs.

Another section of the bill requires the development of tracking processes for fresh fruits and vegetables. These record keeping tasks can be absolutely crippling to small organic farmers that spend most of their days caring for crops in their fields and selling the produce that they make. Having to keep track of every consumer that they sell their food to is simply excess bureaucratic paperwork that they don't need. It is also something that consumers would highly frown upon. Imagine going to the Dupont Farmer's Market on Sundays and having to fill in your name and address on a manifest for every purchase that you make.

The good news is that currently there seems to be a provision for small farmers who sell directly to restaurants and consumers.
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