Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Safety

You may have heard people talk about a new bill in congress that will radically change the way we can produce and purchase food. House bill H.R. 875 and senate bill S 510, better known as The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is probably the legislation referred to. This bill stems from legitimate concerns about the safety of our food system. The major focus of the bill is to ensure that food processing and handling is undertaken in a manner to prevent food borne illness such as E. coli 0157H7.

While the impetus for the bill stems from real danger in our food supply it does address the heart of the matter. Rather than proposing real solutions to the problems posed by centralized production, long distance transportation, and centralized processing, it proposes to pile more regulations onto the pile of already under enforced current regulations.
We know that our current rules don’t work. A recent example is the January 2010 Consumer Reports which found that 2/3 of fresh whole chickens in grocery stores contains at least one of two potentially deadly bacteria: campylobacter and salmonella. The birds are contaminated in spite of our current regulations. They are, in fact, contaminated because of the way in which we raise, transport, and process most of our meat in this country.

Cattle, pigs, and chickens are all primarily raised in confined situations with high levels of fecal matter. This fecal matter harbors disease agents. As animals are transported and slaughtered there is high risk of fecal matter coming into direct contact with the animals and finally the meat. The solution is to raise animals outside on fresh pasture where they do not wallow in their own excrement. The second part of the problem is centralized processing. This puts pieces of thousands of animals into one piece of processed meat. So even if only one cow carcass is contaminated the meat will reach thousands of people via thousands of burgers. The solution here is to butcher at local slaughter houses in smaller numbers. This way if one animal is contaminated a limited and easily traceable quantity of meat is affected.

The Food Safety Modernization Act does not really address these alternative ideas. It applies blanket rules designed for large producers to all producers regardless of size. Most of the time the new rules probably wouldn’t stop an outbreak, they would simply make it slightly faster to trace. We need to stop these problems before they begin. Furthermore, we must recognize that these are problems of our large scale Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and centralized processing and not problems of small farmers selling to local markets.

Please learn about this bill at these sites:

North Carolinians have a good opportunity to provide input because both Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr are on the committee reviewing the bill. After learning about the bill and reading the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s talking points, please call your senators and urge them to modify the bill to allow small producers like us to operate without undue regulatory burden.

You can reach them at the following numbers:

Senator Hagan's office at (202) 224-6342
Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154

Thank you

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