How to Sift Through the New S.510 Food Safety Bill (How Does it Affect You?)

Conundrum: I don’t want a giant agri-business to be able to sell my family the spinach they grew downstream from factory-farmed cattle (mmm, E. coli!) but I also don’t want much (or any) regulations placed on small-scale farms, CSAs, farmer’s markets, online farmer’s markets, small dairies, or backyard growers. Citizens are capable of inspecting their own local food — because if it’s local, it isn’t hard to figure out where it came from. People should be trusted to make decisions on whether they want to buy raw or pasteurized milk. They should be allowed to buy their produce from the farm they toured with their kids last Saturday. But how can they be expected to make informed decisions on supermarket food from all over the globe without safety regulations and accurate labeling?

That said, I have mixed feelings about the S.510 Food Safety Bill that lawmakers in congress are deciding on this week, and I’m not the only one. Writing a bill that encompasses all these complicated gray areas is as difficult as understanding the bill once it’s been written. Factor in partisan bickering and the lobbyists for major corporations… it’s a mess!

Photo Caption: Once the new Food Safety Bill is enacted, will people be able to subscribe to high quality local CSAs like this one from Greenbrier Farms in SC?

The national news hasn’t shown a lot of coverage on this subject. It isn’t sexy. But the reports I have seen are conflicting.

The touted purpose of the bill is to prevent outbreaks of contaminated food like ones with eggs and peanuts recently seen in the news. Advocates for small-scale agriculture objected that the regulations would put small farms out of business, but most were placated by the Tester amendment (Associated Press). Some still feel the amendment isn’t strong enough, and there are concerns that it has been watered down. Here’s Michael Pollan’s take on the bill and the Tester amendment (Washington Post). Others are worried that loopholes will make the safety precautions meaningless (Huffington Post).

Another perspective is that the entire bill is detrimental, such as this take on Concerns are especially focused on whether big agriculture is lobbying to use the nation’s fear of food-borne illnesses to expand their monopoly over the market. It’s possible that a final vote will never occur, due to additional amendments that the Senate can’t agree on (Wall Street Journal).

Photo Caption: Will the new Food Safety Bill affect backyard farmers or small CSAs? This large harvest is from my garden but it includes raw goat milk and free range eggs from Pecan Dale Farmstead in SC (which I didn't purchase -- I babysat their animals while they were out of town). Pecan Dale Farmstead currently sells vegetables and eggs to the public on a small scale.

What do you think? New information is popping up on this by the hour, so if you have something to add, I’d love to hear it. And don’t just tell me, call your senator’s office!

Note: I’d rather keep this on the topic of the merits or faults of the bill rather than pointing fingers at Republicans or Democrats (which is something I wish that congress would do when they are lawmaking).

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

12 thoughts on “How to Sift Through the New S.510 Food Safety Bill (How Does it Affect You?)”

  1. Nathaniel
    Twitter: nhlord
    - November 19, 2010 11:41 am

    I think the thing that lawmakers should really be taking into perspective (and probably do to some degree already) is that small farms, CSAs, home gardens, etc. reach a far smaller population in a much more regional area than some of the major national agricultural producers. With this smaller local economy there is likely to be a lot more self regulation to try and ensure product safety and quality. Failure to self regulate can cause accidents that would potentially alienate the local and limited customer base, causing sincere problems for the small farm local grower. This alone creates incentives from smaller agricultural production to take precautions. When I brew my own beer or make my own pickles I tend to put a lot of effort to assure that these products will be safe becuase the consumers of them will be me and people whom I am close to (friends and family).

    On the flipside, Big Agra, while potentially inconvenieced by outbreaks of food-borne illness are likely to be able to weather the storm simply becuase they are so pervassive and far reaching. However, their failures to assure quality control can also affect a far larger population than a small local farm can. As such regulation becomes necesasary to prevent large scale catastrophies.

    These are two innate differences that I think policy makers need to take into consideration. It isn’t that all small farms are without risk or that all Big Agra is always carelessly putting a profit margin above the well being of its consumers, but the effects of the magnitude of both production and distribution certianly warrents differing regulatory action.

    I think over regulating small producers would certainly be detrimental to their ability to form and sustain a working business. But no regulation what-so-ever may be impossible. As such, regulators must take the inititive to recognize the difference that exist between a small local farm that employees 5 people and feeds a few hundred customers versus a giant national idustrial farming company that employees thousands and in turn feeds millions. The difference are there and real.
    .-= Nathaniel´s last blog ..Rewatching The Simpsons- Season One =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 1:36 pm

      I feel like the more I’ve read about this the more indecisive I feel. But I still think it will be necessary to exclude small farms from the regulations… somehow.

  2. fer
    Twitter: mygardeninjapan
    - November 19, 2010 1:28 pm

    Your harvest looks amazing! so many delicious vegetables and fruit!
    I hope this new law doesn’t cause you much problems. It sounds like it could complicate things quite a bit.
    .-= fer´s last blog ..Using banana peels as fertilizer for container plants =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 1:38 pm

      It would be interesting to know what other countries where agribusiness is dominant are doing to solve this problem. I haven’t heard of any precedents.

  3. lifeshighwy
    Twitter: lifeshighway
    - November 19, 2010 4:37 pm

    We have farmer cooperatives in our area. The farmers have to pass a rigorous inspection by other members of the coop. We have vegetable growers, egg providers, meat and bakers. We as customers feel safe in purchasing these goods and trust the self-governing group. I cannot see that federal involvement would improve small community farmers markets.
    .-= lifeshighwy´s last blog ..Fantasy Yard – Number Two – Under The Sea =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 5:18 pm

      That sounds like an excellent system!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Sift Through the New S510 Food Safety Bill How Does it Affect You =-.

  4. Curbstone Valley Farm - November 19, 2010 4:59 pm

    Personally, I feel this bill, from what I’ve read thus far, doesn’t really fix the crux of the problem. It’s a band-aid solution. Slamming shut the barn door when the horses have bolted. Micro-legislating food safety, passing more regulations, when the responsible regulatory agencies clearly lack the enforcement personnel, seems to be going about it all backwards to me. The FDA and USDA need to BOTH be drastically reorganized in regards to food safety. The fact that sometimes it takes MONTHS to track down and notify consumers about an outbreak is absurd. Telling me in May about a ground beef recall for beef processed the previous December is ludicrious, and points to more problems on the administrative and enforcement side, than anything else. That said, if this passes, the Tester Amendment would seem to be critically important for smaller scale producers. Local, small scale producers aren’t immune from the food-borne illness potential in their food products, but they simply don’t have the ability to make as many people ill, far and wide, as large scale crop producers or CAFOs do, and I don’t feel it’s just to hold them to same level of regulation. I do agree our food safety is massively broken, but honestly think we need a better balance between Federal legislation, versus local regulation of our food supply.
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Cat Among the Chickens =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 5:29 pm

      These are great comments. I can’t help picturing some FDA/USDA enforcement personnel opening the barn and then looking at each other nonplussed because they can’t find the livestock.

      I’ve thought about this off and on all day and keep coming back to the fact that agribusiness and factory farming just doesn’t work sustainably. It’s not a band-aid for a gaping wound in my mind. I feel more like someone created a Frankenstein and the body parts are showing all the signs of organ rejection… so there isn’t anything to logically stick a band-aid on. But, we try anyway.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Sift Through the New S510 Food Safety Bill How Does it Affect You =-.

  5. Janet - November 19, 2010 5:29 pm

    Eliza, I am more confused than ever. I do feel as though Tester’s amendment is a good step forward.
    .-= Janet´s last blog ..Im Seeing Red! =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - November 19, 2010 6:21 pm

      Yeah, complex problems just don’t cooperate with simple solutions — and no one is paying attention. I’ve been trying to search the news for new developments and it looks like the bill has passed… but I can’t find much reporting on the subject. It didn’t even make the headlines on any of the major news outlets that I looked at.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Sift Through the New S510 Food Safety Bill How Does it Affect You =-.

  6. debsgarden - November 19, 2010 7:07 pm

    Your vegetables are wonderful! I personally would rather buy my produce from a local source, rather than the supermarket. I know the vegetables are fresh and taste better. The stuff from the stores is higher priced to accommodate the middle man and is more likely to be treated with preservatives or other chemicals and to be picked before full flavor is obtained.
    .-= debsgarden´s last blog ..Appalachian Roots =-.

  7. Alex - November 30, 2010 1:45 pm

    My read on the bill is that it still doesn’t allow the USDA to make a mandatory beef recall. Beef is regulated by the USDA and this bill only addresses the role of the FDA. Its a good start, but until the USDA can force a company to recall its tainted beef, we’re still a far cry from keeping consumers safe. Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

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