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Food Safety Bill: Consumers Union Response + An Internet Backlash

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Jun 17, 2009 at 16:00:29 PM PDT

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Good lord. As a friend put it "Just when you thought it was safe to back on the Internet again..." Remember all of the anti-HR 875 garbage that circulated the Internet for MONTHS earlier this year? It's back, but now it's aimed at this new food safety bill.

Now, don't get me wrong. The bill isn't perfect. It's not perfect in several ways. But it's pretty much the best we're gonna get in today's political environment, and it's not so flawed that it's worth opposing. It DOES do a lot of needed things. I've pasted a Consumers' Union statement about the bill below so you can see what they are saying about it.

You'll notice from the statement below that we got SOME of the things we were asking for, including increased inspections for high risk facilities and language added to the bill about mandatory testing for pathogens and reporting of results to the FDA. Another article I saw earlier today said the bill now includes a provision that gives the FDA the ability to (at their own discretion) inspect small facilities less frequently than the timeline called for in the bill. Since the FDA is constantly strapped for cash, I have a hunch they will take advantage of that option.

The only thing that I find disappointing is a part added to the bill calling for the FDA to evaluate the safety of BPA. I think this means that the bills to ban BPA altogether are now dead. After all, it gives opponents to a BPA ban the argument that we should wait until the FDA studies the issue first.

So how about the crazy internet rumors that are starting up to oppose this bill? Here's what they say:

HR 2749 gives FDA tremendous power while significantly diminishing existing judicial restraints on actions taken by the agency.  The bill would impose a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme on small farms and local artisanal producers; and it would disproportionately impact their operations for the worse.

The important thing to note is that - if these are coming from the same source as last time - these rumors are coming from the libertarian/Ron Paul crowd that wants the government to leave everyone the hell alone. The folks behind the rumors last time were obviously not legal scholars of any sort, since they were making ridiculous claims left and right (like "This bill will pass in the next two weeks!!!1!!" while Congress was on a 2 week recess). Like I said, it's not perfect. But the people who claim that it's going to impose restrictions on anywhere that prepares food (like homes and gardens) are totally full of it. For crying out loud, Uncle Sam isn't coming after your farmers' market.

Jill Richardson :: Food Safety Bill: Consumers Union Response + An Internet Backlash
News Release

Consumers Union - Publisher of Consumer Reports

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Food Safety Bill Approved by House Committee: Statement by Consumers Union

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, today applauded the unanimous vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in favor of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.

Jean Halloran, the director of Consumers Union's food safety campaign, said, "The bill would go a long way towards preventing outbreaks like the ones we have seen with spinach and peanut butter.  Among the many important provisions in this bill, we've pushed hard to require high-risk food processors to test for contaminants and tell the FDA when they find them, and we're pleased that this provision was added to the bill approved today."

Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, "We're now one step closer to real reform.  We commend the leadership of the committee --Congressmen Waxman, Dingell, Pallone, and Stupak -- for all of their efforts to get this legislation approved.  The committee passed the bill with bipartisan support, which gives us real momentum moving forward.  We hope that the legislation moves to the House floor quickly and the Senate passes a strong bill so a final package can be sent to the President soon.  Congress needs to act before we discover another food contamination that takes consumers' lives."

The food safety bill contains several provisions long advocated by Consumers Union.  Among the items that will benefit consumers are:

  • Inspections of high-risk food facilities at least every 6-12 months as well as inspection of lower-risk facilities at least once every 3 years (FDA currently averages inspections once every ten years) Consumers Union said the schedule for high-risk facility inspection is an improvement over previous versions of the bill.

  • A requirement that says, after a period of information gathering and study, FDA will be able to require high-risk food facilities to submit the results of testing their finished food products for safety.

  • A requirement that all registered domestic and foreign food facilities identify hazards and implement steps to prevent or reduce contaminants that may appear in food.

  • A requirement that businesses keep basic safety records in a standard format so they are easier for FDA to review.

  • Authority for FDA to order a recall if a company fails to do so when requested.

  • A requirement that food facilities selling to American consumers register with the FDA and pay annual fees.

  • A requirement that FDA gather information and run a pilot project to set up a method to trace food back to its source in the case of contamination. Such a "traceback" system will have to allow FDA to trace food back to its source within 2 business days, a power which was clearly lacking at the agency during last year's salmonella outbreak with peppers.

Consumers Union also supports a requirement in the bill that FDA take another look at the scientific data on the safety of Bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic additive that appears in many food and beverage containers.  Consumers Union believes that there is sufficient scientific justification for an immediate ban on BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and other baby food containers.

As the process moves forward, Consumers Union urges Congress to return to the legislation two strong provisions in previous versions of the bill:  meaningful civil penalties to deter wrongdoers, and language protecting strong state food safety laws - like that passed in Georgia regarding safety inspections and testing - that provide even higher protections to consumers.

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If the FDA did find that BPA is harmful (4.00 / 3)
which it clearly is could it unilaterally ban it or would we need another act of Congress? Also do you have any idea how long that would take? I'd like to get a BPA ban in this bill but we've only won in one state (Minnesota) and I could live with the FDA banning it after a few months of study.  

we'll never get an outright BPA ban (4.00 / 3)
in this bill. Giving the FDA authority to ban would be a big win, and I would be surprised if that ends up in the final version.

[ Parent ]
If they find that its harmful (4.00 / 2)
hopefully they'd be able to take action to ban it. You'd hope they have some framework in place already to ban harmful things. But I don't know.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Love Local But.... (0.00 / 0)
This bill could be death to the local movement.  If you love being a localvore, then you should seriously understand the impacts this bill would have on the local food movement.  

It is NOT what you want.  This will take the food supply into the hands of even fewer by forcing the small processors and smaller farmers out of business.

I caution folks to read past the political correctness of this bill and understand the repercussions to the local movement.

This bill is only good for large agribusiness and big food.  Reminder:  Historically, it has not been the small processors or food producers that have caused food safety recalls or issues.  Historically, it has been the larger industries and big agr that has been at the root of the food safety problems.

Support local agriculture and small family farming and fight this bill.  Read closely and ask a local farmer how this bill will impact their farm.  Ask a local small food processor what will happen to them if this bill becomes law.

You may be surprised of the answer.

This is NOT the answer for a localvore.

Just got off the phone w/ a farmer (4.00 / 2)
Will post more about it later, I promise.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Is my farm a high risk facility? (4.00 / 3)
Since I sell at the farmers market and have a walk-in freezer it is supposed to be inspected by the same inspector that inspects my milking facilities. In the ten years I have had it, it has been inspected a few times, but not the 2x per year the barn/milk house are inspected.

I would agree with those who feel small producers will feel the brunt of the new regulations. Meat processing facilities for example,if you have plenty of stainless steel and new coolers, everything is fine. I spent plenty of time in large processing facilities when I was in graduate school, and believe me lots of stainless steel does not make everything OK.

Too many animals (100's per hour), too little time, workers who are forced to do too much in too little time, manure covered animals. It is not a good situation.

The small plant where I have my animals processed (15-20 animals a day) is older, but scrupulously clean, careful workers who know us by name, and never one incidence of contamination. Still I know the inspectors are harder on them than the industrial plants that process most of America's meat.

So I am not so worried about the dairy part of my business, but if our meat processor gets put out because his facilities are not new and shiny, no more direct marketing for Northwood Farm.

[ Parent ]
i am a local honey processor (0.00 / 1)
and I am not real concerned about the bill as honey is very low risk. like ever heard of a honey recall?

there are already many exemptions for small producers like for example nutritional labeling is not needed if I produce less then 100K jars per year. so with Obama at the wheel and his admin open to public input I trust we will prevail.

also maybe I read it here but somewhere I read that this bill calls for industry to be involved with FDA in establishing the rules for each industry like honey. this allows each industry to make sure the rules impacting them are realistic.  basically this bill says FDA has broader authority that had been previously shared with several agencies

also what is this hype about BPA and a slam dunk in the science. sounds like a broken record we hear here alot about GMO and unfounded claims of it being unhealthy etc blah blah blah.. like cite some science and published papers to back up your wild ass claims that BPA is for sure unsafe.

science and for that matter beekeeping is far from certain. many many scientific problems take a lot of work to be sure about certain findings. the issue has been raised and we should all wait for more science to come out - it takes time.

without plastic you would not be reading this post and show me a food group that does not need plastic packaging to sell a product?  

BPA? Why don't you start... (4.00 / 2)
...reading through these, and click around the links in those pieces.  

I'm not going to go through the extra work of listing the studies for an obvious troll such as yourself, but the links are all in those pieces.  Not that you're going to bother clicking on any of them anyways, because we all know what your purpose is here.

You really wanna talk about "wild ass claims", Mr. climate change denier?  I could write a book solely consisting of your stupid-assed comments here, but I'm not gonna bother.  You aren't worth the time.  And you're also an immature little foul-mouthed troll on top of everything else.

And honestly, I have to ask - what do you have against capital letters, Bud?  Are they part of some lib'rul conspiracy, too?

[ Parent ]
Food groups that don't need plastic to sell? (4.00 / 3)
produce for starters . . .  and many other whole foods. I'm guessing with a name like Bud you're a guy. So far I haven't seen any studies where BPA effects men, but children and women I have. I'm sure they'll come for you next  ;)

Plastic free food:

[ Parent ]
There you go again! (4.00 / 1)
Bringing facts and stuff into the discussion...


"Bud" doesn't like anything that strays from his rabid foaming-at-the-mouth right-winger-ism...

And fwiw, it's clear that "Bud" doesn't know, nor has he ever read, a fucking thing about BPA.  And I think I've been fair with that dipshit up until now, but BPA is where I'm absolutely gonna draw the line.  Not gonna stand for that for one second, especially since Jill and I have been on that issue here forever...

[ Parent ]
Far From the "Ron Paul" Group (0.00 / 0)
The best explanation I've heard about why this bill is a problem comes from the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund. These are attorneys, farmers, and informed others who understand that food can be raised in several different ways, some better than others.
 This bill is very much a "feel good," for those who want safe food, but who don't actually produce it. It may exempt the small producer, or it may not. There are no definitions of what "small" means, or for that matter, what type of production they are talking about?
 Someone commented on bettering "best practices." Isn't "Best" already the superlative? What if the FDA doesn't even recognize the real practices? Do I have to use medications on my goats that have never been tested and have no known withdrawal times, because the FDA doesn't recognize the efficacy of herbal treatments? That's the opening of a huge conversation that really needs to happen, but won't, unfortunately.
 We all want safe food, but the best way to get it isn't by blanketing everyone with heavy regulations. It's by concentrating the FDA's energies where they'll affect the most food, which may not be the most popular company to be examining. Putting a small farmer out of business is still "doing something," even if it's not the right thing. Just read "Mad Sheep," and imagine it on the whole food scale.  

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