Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Food Safety Bill That Would Make Us Less Safe

James J. Gormley

Backyard growers who sell pumpkins and other produce on their own property, or at a local farmer´s market, will be in for a surprise if Senator Durbin´s Senate Bill 510 (S.B. 510) passes: they will be receiving a visit from inspectors.

Products not grown according to designated standards will be considered "adulterated" and their business records will be subject to warrantless searches by inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) without any evidence needed to prove that they have violated any law.

Wonder why Federal agents have imposed martial law by quarantining your town? Under S.B. 510´s House counterpart bill, H.R. 2749 (Section 133b, "Authority to Prohibit or Restrict the Movement of Food"), sponsored by Congressman Dingell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have the power to prohibit all movement of all food within a geographic area, whether the food is in your mother´s grocery bag in her Ford Taurus or on a flatbed. No court order will be needed, just a phone call to the appropriate state official and a public announcement will be sufficient.

Are you upset that raw milk or raw milk cheeses (like feta) are no longer available in the U.S.? This could happen thanks to the "performance standards" powers that would be granted to the FDA by S.B. 510, especially since the agency has made it clear that it is vehemently opposed to the consumption of very popular raw milk products.

Shocked that U.S. food safety regulations strangely match those of other countries? Section 306 of S.B. 510 would require "Recommendations to harmonize requirements under the Codex Alimentarius."

What about food supplement manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and health food stores? Will they be ensnared in this bill´s 1984-esque net? Very possibly so.

S.B. 510 (which would cost Americans $825 million in 2010 alone) and the House of Representatives version of this bill, H.R. 2749, which did pass under suspended rules, do not address the root causes of the U.S.'s food safety problems, which were highlighted in both a recent campaign by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and by a letter to 99 U.S. senators by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA).

According to consumer health advocacy group, Citizens for Health, if this Senate version passes it would:


>> Undermine DSHEA and move the U.S. one step closer to harmonizing our standards under Codex with those of restrictive regimes like the European Union. (DSHEA, or the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, says that supplements are food and are safe for consumption unless proven otherwise – ensuring that millions of Americans are able to enjoy access to safe, effective and affordable dietary supplements).

>> Give the FDA inappropriate, and unprecedented, control over farms and direct-to-consumer distributors. If passed, the bills would charge facilities an annual $500 registration fee, require additional record keeping, and expand the FDA´s authority to quarantine geographic areas for alleged food safety problems – all without significantly improving food safety.

>> Harm U.S. organic farmers by imposing overlapping regulations.

>> Hurt food supplements and health-food stores by imposing standards that are already covered by the AER (Adverse Event Reporting) Law, cGMPs (current Good Manufacturing Practices) and food facility registration.

>> Cripple local food co-ops, farm stands, independent ranchers and artisanal food producers by imposing unnecessary standards and unfair bureaucratic burdens.

Clearly, S. 510, while claiming to increase food safety would actually leave consumers more vulnerable to foodborne disease since the FDA would be required to use a mathematical algorithm-centered, risk-based food safety system called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) rather than doing old-fashioned, effective physical, on-site inspections in plants, factory farms and slaughterhouses, where the actual food safety concerns are.

Furthermore, the U.S. has abrogated its duty to inspect and enforce food safety standards, both here and abroad, by allowing processing plants to regulate themselves under the failed HACCP system; and it has embraced policies that have driven independent U.S. farmers and ranchers out of business and replaced them with corporate-owned, industrialized food production units that are known to cut food safety corners to maximize corporate profits.

So what do we need to do? One thing consumers can do is visit Citizens for Health (www.citizens.org) for an opportunity to send a letter to senators about S.B. 510, the "food safety bill" that isn´t.

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