Food Safety Modernization Act

Monterey County agriculture

A while back, Childhood Obesity News looked at various things the government does to fight childhood obesity. Not surprisingly, many of these measures have to do with food — its availability, quality, quantity, cost, and many other aspects. It’s worth knowing something about the Food Safety Modernization Act, which has been called the most dangerous bill in U.S. history.

Two years ago, Mike Adams of wrote:

It would grant the U.S. government new authority over the public’s right to grow, trade and transport any foods. This would give Big Brother the power to regulate the tomato plants in your backyard. It would grant them the power to arrest and imprison people selling cucumbers at farmer’s markets. It would criminalize the transporting of organic produce if you don’t comply with the authoritarian rules of the federal government.

But isn’t it good for the federal government to keep us safe with authoritarian rules? Yes and no. In many instances, it depends on what those rules are. As originally proposed, the Food Safety Modernization Act would require small farmers who want to save seeds to invest millions in new machinery for separating seeds from plants, and effectively criminalize the preservers of heirloom seeds. Who benefits from that? Gigantic corporations that want to own and control every growing thing on Earth.

Adams also says, and this may or may not be rhetorical exaggeration:

This law would also give the U.S. government the power to arrest any backyard food producer as a felon (a ‘smuggler’) for merely growing lettuce and selling it at a local farmer’s market.

One of the points that bothers Adams and other like-minded citizens is that food production, even home-grown gardens, would ultimately come under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, whose mission is supposed to be catching terrorists. A quick scan of the full text of the bill does turn up quit a few mentions of that agency.

The implications of the Food Safety Modernization Bill‘s sweeping reforms (if that is the correct word) don’t seem clear yet, because implementation of the law has not been sorted out. Chris Mittelstaedt writes:

There is discussion about accommodating small growers, but the trend is not good, and the mood is akin to an agricultural Patriot Act, where an over inflated concern about food safety puts at risk American agricultural life as we know it… Small farmers we work with say, regardless of the final rules, the large buyers, insurers and other entities will hold sway over farming operations, and will raise the bar of compliance beyond what is reasonable for a small farm.

Earlier this month, Mark Hertsgaard reported on the convergence on Washington of representatives from more than 80 agricultural organizations. The Senate had passed the farm bill, the House had not, time was running short, and the farmers wanted Congress to get a move on. Both the original version or a House-modified version are very likely to have the same evil effect of exacerbating serious climatological problems.

Farmers need to concentrate on growing crops in a way that doesn’t destroy the earth, and they need the incentive to diversify, because monoculture is an invitation to disaster. When huge areas are devoted to one crop, the vulnerability to large, all-encompassing problems increases greatly. Either way, many feel it will ultimately lead to drought and famine, with everyone except the very wealthy going on a severe reducing diet. Some believe that if passed into law, this controversial bill could create a situation where childhood obesity will be the least of our problems.

But rather than address these issues, what the Washington insiders want is simply for the taxpayers to pay for more insurance to bail out agribusiness’ factory farms when all the crops fail. The corporations will get paid for their food by Americans, whether or not Americans have anything to eat. Hertsgaard interviewed Jim Kleinschmit of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, who said:

It’s like giving a homeowner cut-rate fire insurance but not requiring fire extinguishers.

The leader of this potentially destructive movement is the National Corn Growers Association. Indeed, the big winners of the more-insurance plan will be the “big five” commodity crops (corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, and cotton) some of which have been identified as childhood obesity villains.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Senate Bill S 510 Food Safety Modernization Act vote imminent: Would outlaw gardening and saving seeds,”, 11/16/10
Source: “Saving the Gravenstein is saving America,”, 08/16/12
Source: “Harvesting a Climate Disaster,” The New York Times, 09/12/12
Image by Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious.

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