Small farmers, organic growers, raw milk drinkers and many others are organizing themselves on the Internet to kill HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.
And if there is not a vote on the floor of the U.S. House before the ten-day 4th of July break, opponents will have more time to rally others to their cause.
Typical of the electronic rhetoric being used against HR 2749 is this:
“The first Patriot Act was passed using fear of terrorism. This Patriot Act is more coy, hiding under a cloak of “food safety” and but also using fear – fear of food contamination, “ says The Writers’ Collective on Food Freedom.
“Evidently, Americans are supposed to be so frightened by the slightest possibility of a terrorist or of E-coli, they would trade away all their precious, hard fought freedoms for the promise of safety.”
It was only a week ago that HR 2749 was sent to the floor on a unanimous bipartisan vote of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Committee vote followed some compromises, including exempting meat and poultry producers from regulation by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and halving annual registration fees to $500 per food facility.
The reforms—to widely expand FDA authority—are now under fire on as many as 100 Internet sites. Within the first week of the Committee’s action, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund had generated 3,270 responses to its call for congressional contacts.
The group says the expanded FDA powers would diminish judicial restraints on the agency and impose a “one size fits all” regulatory scheme on “small farms and local artisanal producers.”
Farm-to-Consumer claims to be for food safety, but says HR 2749 does not address “problems such as industrial agriculture practices and consolidation of our food supply.”
Some of the blogs enlisting the campaign go much further, calling FDA a “fascist” organization and claiming people will be jailed for ten years in a federal prison for selling home-made bakery items at a local farmers market.
Advocates for victims of food-borne illnesses and consumer groups for food safety have also been active in the halls of Congress. However, most of that activity appears to have come before the Committee vote. Opponents have pushed hardest in the last week.
Broader FDA inspections and traceability are at the heart of the new food safety law. FDA persuaded the Committee that it couldn’t do adequate inspections without access to company records and the funding to do the job.
According to Committee estimates, 378,000 domestic and 223,000 foreign food facilities will pay the annual $500 fee. Farms are exempt. The new fees will raise about $300 million for inspections.
Generally speaking, the corporate food industry was supportive of the bill that passed the Committee. They did work to cut the annual inspection fees in halve and gained a cap of $175,000 for companies with multiple facilities.
Beef and pork producers have lobbied hard to maintain their exclusive regulatory treatment by the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and NOT FDA.
The House appears unlikely to get to HR 2749 before it leaves for the July 4th break (which includes time for work in their districts next week). Thursday it worked on the Defense Authorization Bill and on Friday the so-called “Cap & Trade” Energy Bill is suppose to be up debate and votes.
That means food safety legislation will likely have to wait—at least until the Representatives return to Washington, D.C. on July 6th.