Sunday, March 22, 2009

Food Safety Modernization Act: "It's Just Frightening What Can Happen With Good Intentions"

Fear of lead poisoning in children's toys caused the US Congress to almost unanimously pass a legal disaster known as the CPSIA, the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act of 2008. I've been blogging about it for a while now, as it serves as such a clear moral lesson in how good intentions are not an automatic shield against bad results. In the mad rush to be seen to be doing something, anything, to "save the children", the Congress passed a law that they evidently didn't even read, otherwise how else to explain the one-size-fits-all broad brush that suggests 12-year old children will eat books, winter coats, motorcycles and innumerable other products from other industries.... all because of carelessly-worded legislation that is needlessly destroying billions of dollars worth of inventories across America.

Now fear of food poisoning is causing the same US Congress to feel compelled to pass a compost heap of good intentions called the FSMA, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. Once again, a one-size-fits-all solution is being fermented with blind faith in the government legislators who now want to use the same expertise they brought to bear on shepherding banks and toys, to the United States' food supply.

Under the FSMA, a whole new government agency would be grown, called the Food Safety Administration (FSA), which will treat the smallest family farm as no different than the largest food processing factory.

Radio journalist, writer and entrepreneur Michael Olson identifies a series of problems that will befall the American farmer like a horde of locusts if H.R. 875, the FSMA, and its seed, the FSA, becomes law. Here are a few of the fruits of the FSA's potential harvest:

· Binds all State and County Departments of Agriculture to federal authority
· Superintends everyone who grows food, whether they sell it or not.
· Superintends the production of meat of any kind.
· Allows the FSA, or its agents, physical access to all farms.
· Allows the FSA, or its agents, to copy all farm documents.
· Forces farmers who sell direct to consumers to make their customer lists available to FSA, or its agents.
· Grants FSA, or its agents, authority to punish rule-breakers with fines of up to $1 million per day.
· Allows FSA to hire industry leaders to decide how program would be administered.

HR 875 will, for all intents and purposes, make the entire Food Chain of the USA subservient to the federal government, in the name of food safety.

In the March 14 broadcast of his radio show The Food Chain, Michael conducted a lively and well-balanced debate on the controversial bill. Towards the end of the show, a caller points out the kind of simple fact that seems to forever escape the notice of civic-minded Congresspersons: the family on the farm is the first tester of the products of those farms, because the family eats the food it grows. If the food is bad the family will be the first to get sick. What system can the government devise to be more full-proof than that?

While the act is not supposed to affect farms engaged in certain intra-state transactions, guest Peter Kennedy, acting-president of the Farm to Consumer Legal Protection Fund, clarified how farms would now have the burden of showing how they are not engaged in inter-state commerce. Meaning, the small farm would have to track each and every sale in order to prove that they are engaging in intra-state, rather than inter-state, commerce; how does a small farm possibly do that?

As was the case with the poisonous toys from China, there are grounds for legitimate concern about the quality of the food we buy, whether it's pet food or peanut butter. The answer isn't "no oversight"; but would throwing as much fertilizer as the FSMA proposes be any more effective as a solution? Where is the faith in the common sense of the common man to be able to take care of himself?

After his radio program Michael Olson was interviewed himself, for an article on the FSMA that recently appeared in World Net Daily:

[Olson] told WND the government should focus on regulating food production in countries such as China and Mexico rather than burdening small and organic farmers in the U.S. with overreaching regulations.
"We need somebody to watch over us when we're eating food that comes from thousands and thousands of miles away. We need some help there," he said. "But when food comes from our neighbors or from farmers who we know, we don't need all of those rules. If your neighbor sells you something that is bad and you get sick, you are going to get your hands on that farmer, and that will be the end of it. It regulates itself."
Federal regulators will be tasked with ensuring that food producers, processors and distributors – both large and small – prevent and minimize food safety hazards such as food-borne illnesses and contaminants such as bacteria, chemicals, natural toxins or manufactured toxicants, viruses, parasites, prions, physical hazards or other human pathogens.
Under the legislation's broad wording, slaughterhouses, seafood processing plants, establishments that process, store, hold or transport all categories of food products prior to delivery for retail sale, farms, ranches, orchards, vineyards, aquaculture facilities and confined animal-feeding operations would be subject to strict government regulation.
Government inspectors would be required to visit and examine food production facilities, including small farms, to ensure compliance.
Olson believes the regulations could create unjustifiable financial hardships for small farmers and run them out of business.
"That is often the purpose of rules and regulations: to get rid of your competition," he said.
"Only people who are very, very large can afford to comply. They can hire one person to do paperwork. There's a specialization of labor there, and when you are very small, you can't afford to do all of these things."
Olson said despite good intentions behind the legislation, this act could devastate small U.S. farms.
"Every time we pass a rule or a law or a regulation to make the world a better place, it seems like what we do is subsidize production offshore," he said. "We tell farmers they can no longer drive diesel tractors because they make bad smoke. Well, essentially what we're doing is giving China a subsidy to grow our crops for us, or Mexico or anyone else."
"It's just frightening what can happen with good intentions," Olson said. "It's probably the most radical notions on the face of this Earth, but local agriculture doesn't need government because it takes care of itself."


truepeers said...

Good intentions are often worthless if you don't have in place an effective system for articulating those intentions, getting feedback, and negotiating them, knowing full well that the intentions can and must change form - in other words they must find their real form - in the process, through reciprocity. In other words, no one or no clique in Washington is genius enough to figure these things out for the good of everyone. The guy, the committee, the group who has the big idea in the first places must have the humility to know he/they doesn't really know what he/they intend until many others take up the intention and show it to him. The downfall of representative government is when it forgets the arts of representation, when the politician thinks he is a great artist and not responsible to the process by which our ethical "art" becomes recognized, exchanged, institutionalized.

There was a guy at Belmont Club noting how the President and the latest Congress are having a short honeymoon, how even Democrats are getting worried about their pols' artless representations in this time of crisis. The final nail in the Dems coffin, he warned, could be when the bourgeois bohemians can't find heirloom tomatoes at the local farmers' market!

Dag said...

These "Olympians" aren't seemingly satisfied with castrating their parents; they seem to feel a need, like Cronus, to cannibalize their children too. Well, time catches up with us all.

It'll be time in time for palinizing, for the "return" to America: Palinism.