21 March 2009

Rod Dreher on NAIS and Food Safety

Rod Dreher has an excellent column out with more thoughts about the NAIS (discussed here in a recent post), and some of the other dubious "food safety" legislation working its way through Congress.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 attempts to streamline the unwieldy federal food regulation system, as does the similar Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. Both, however, are written as a "one size fits all" bill that would ramp up fees and regulation on all producers of food (and, in the case of the latter, drugs and cosmetics). The little guy who sells homegrown tomatoes or homemade soap at the farmers market would be subject to the same regulation as industrial giants, without the resources to implement it.

"There are legitimate problems that the large commercial producers – the peanut factory that ships around the country – those need to be better regulated," said Judith McGeary, an Austin lawyer and board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. "What we need is a very explicit, unambiguous, clear and broad exemption for small farmers and small producers – people who are making jams and breads for the local farmers market."

Those exemptions aren't in the current legislation. On the NAIS front, a House subcommittee hearing this month was "a disaster" for the local food movement, McGeary said. In the Texas Legislature, proposals to make NAIS voluntary at the state level, absent a federal mandate, are going nowhere.

[snip]

Ironically, the food safety problems that cause such legitimate public concern are caused by large-scale, technology-driven industrial food production and distribution methods – precisely the sort of thing that local, sustainable farmers don't engage in. Yet they are the ones who will suffer the most from these government attempts to solve a problem caused by bigness and technology by imposing more bigness and technology.

We do need better food safety regulation of major producers, but local family farms and artisans shouldn't pay for sins they didn't commit. Consumers need to have the small-farm alternative – and if they are going to preserve it, they have to contact federal and state legislators now.

2 comments:

stephenhopkins said...

As this is an older post of your, I want to make a short comment and say, why do we need the regulations in the first place as the author concludes. I subscribe to a Salatin based approach where there is little to no regulation. If we had government away from farming at every level the small scale farm might show some profit as well as compete with the larger outfit.

TYF said...

I completely agree with you. As Salatin argues, he has the very best and most effective inspection regime in the world: CUSTOMER inspection. He sells directly to the consumer, and hides nothing about his operation from them. If he sells a bad chicken or rotten dozen eggs, he'll hear about it immediately.

IMO, the need for regulation has sprung from enormous size of distribution networks, and alienation of producer from consumer. With that model, the end consumer wants some kind of certification that his meat was processed cleanly and will not make him sick. But there's no reason that certification must come from the USDA. Why not let private agencies, like Underwriters Labratories, do the same thing? Or let farmers try to market their products without certification at all -- and let the consumer make the decision?