Preserve the Freedom to Farm

UPDATE, January 2011: The following was written two years ago. The food safety bills discussed were merged into the Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed Congress in December, 2010. We are now calling for repeal of this bill.

Crops grow in dirt. Animals don't take showers or use toilets. Food is made from yucky stuff.

This means there's always a risk of contamination. We can reduce this risk, but not eliminate it. Attempts to make everything perfectly safe are Utopian fantasies that carry a high price in increased costs, reduced variety, diminished supply, and . . . increased risk.

The free market already provides you with multiple ways to balance risks and costs. You can choose between . . .

  • Organic and non-organic food
  • Locally grown food, or food from far away
  • Processed or non-processed food
  • Natural or genetically engineered food

The politicians want to reduce this variety, and your choices, in favor of their preferred scheme of top-down, one-size-fits-all regulation. But do such monolithic schemes really make us safer? What if the one-size-fits-all scheme gets something wrong, overlooks something, or has unintended consequences? Then everybody suffers, whereas . . .

The choices provided by the free market tend to limit the harm caused by mistakes. It's like having a diversified portfolio of investments. Sadly, politicians aren't fond of diversity. They much prefer their own arrogant dreams for re-engineering the world. Now here comes their latest one . . .

Some politicians want to exploit highly publicized food-borne outbreaks to remake American agriculture, from the top down. These outbreaks were generally the result of industrialized food production, but, as with 9/11 and the housing bubble, politicians like to use crises to grab the power to re-do everything. In this case the most infamous proposal of the 111th Congress was H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act. This bill would've created . . .

  • a vast new bureaucracy, the Food Safety Administration (FSA)
  • an army of inspectors with the power to seize the papers and effects of farmers without a warrant
  • a system to track every morsel of food from the farm to the supermarket, in combination with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
  • a pile of reports for farmers to file

It also would've. . .

  • defined a regulated "food production facility" to potentially include backyard gardens
  • given FSA bureaucrats wide latitude to define "safety" so as to potentially ban organic farming
  • fined violators of FSA regulations up to $1 million per day with no judicial review
  • asserted federal jurisdiction even when food hadn't cross state lines

When we first launched this campaign back in April, we mentioned that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman said "he intends to pass a strong food safety bill soon."

This bill we warned you about, the 109-page H.R. 2749, is here.

The good news is that some of the most egregious trial balloons from earlier bills such as H.R. 875 have gone by the wayside . . .

  • There will be no new Food Safety Administration bureaucracy
  • The bill seems to define "farm" in such a way that backyard gardens won't be included in the regulations
  • Direct farm-to-consumer, farm-to-restaurant, and farm-to-grocery store transactions will be exempt
  • There is no implementation or incorporation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

YOU are to be thanked for this. DC Downsizers were part of a large army of concerned citizens that killed earlier bills.

But the bad news is still very bad. This bill . . .

  • authorizes warrantless searches of farms
  • imposes a $500 tax (or "registration fee") of all operators in all steps of the food production chain
  • imposes civil penalties up to $20,000 per individual for each violation
  • creates a food trace-back system, burdening farms and small businesses with reams of new paperwork
  • empowers the Dept. of Health and Human Services to micro-manage the raising and harvesting of crops (you might have assumed that Congress would've handed the U.S. Dept of Agriculture this terrible power).

In essence, Congress wants to punish the innocent and protect the guilty. It is not small farms and businesses that were the source of contaminated food scares, but rather the processing facilities of large corporations. Yet this bill will only drive small farms out of business, which means reduced competition and higher prices in an already-bad economy.

Please send an URGENT letter to Congress telling them to defeat H.R. 2749. Tell them the bill will only hurt competition and put undue burdens on small farmers.

Use the form at right to send your elected representatives a letter about this issue. It's easy!

  • Your position will be counted by each Congressional office,
  • Will educate the Congressional staffer who reads it,
  • May be passed up the chain of command,
  • May receive a reply (many DC Downsizers get them). If you receive such a letter, please share it with us at Comments@DownsizeDC.org.

Send a letter to Congress

We provide the first few words of the letter so that Congressional offices will see the most important point right at the start, and so that no one can hijack our system for another purpose. Here's the part we provide . . .

Please repeal the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
   
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