What appears to be an extremely silly law is now before Congress.
HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act (FSEA) treats every food producer from Blue Oven Bakery, a small artisan bakery that sells at many local farmers' markets, to food industry giant Kraft as if they're the same: as if the food they produce presents the same risks of adulteration and as if the same preventive measures are necessary for both. This just isn't the case; small artisan producers are providing safe, healthy, sustainably-produced foods made by hand, often using traditional methods that have been in use for centuries and sourcing local ingredients from small farmers. Such foods are already safe, and in fact are the solution to our country's food safety problems. We should be encouraging these producers into the market, not erecting more barriers for them. This new bill will erect barriers, possibly insurmountable ones, to local artisan food producers.
For example: the bill requires every food producer to pay a $500 fee and undertake a "hazard analysis" to prevent their food from presenting a safety hazard to the public. So Blue Oven and other local artisan food producers such as Fab Ferments (which make fermented sauerkrauts and sells them at local farmers' markets) and Linwood Sausage Co. (which makes artisan sausages and sells them at Hyde Park FM) will pay the same fee as Nestle or Kellogg's and be saddled with the same paperwork burden. I'm thinking Nestle and Kellogg's won't miss the $500 and can probably absorb the costs of developing their "hazard analysis." I don't think the same can be said for Blue Oven Bakery.
Here's another example: Food producers engaging in "interstate shipping" must develop a "Food Safety Plan." Again, it doesn't matter how small or new a producer is or how they produce their food product. Capriole, a small goat cheese maker in Indiana who might want to sell at Ohio or Kentucky farmers' markets, is treated the same as Tyson, which ships tons of factory-farmed chicken to all fifty states. Under HR 2749, both will be required to develop a food safety plan including these elements:
- preventive controls being implemented;
- procedure for monitoring preventive controls;
- procedures for taking corrective action;
- verification activities for the preventive controls, including validation, review of monitoring and corrective action records, and procedures for determining whether the preventive controls are effectively preventing, eliminating, or reducing to an acceptable level the occurrence of identified hazards or conditions;
- recordkeeping procedures;
- procedures for the recall of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
- procedures for the trace back of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
- procedures to ensure a safe and secure supply chain for the ingredients or components used in making the food manufactured, processed, packed, transported or held by such facility; and
- procedures to implement the science-based performance standards issued.
It's always difficult to parse out the various reasons people are against any new law to figure out whether it's hysteria from those who simply distrust the government (though I have a lot of sympathy for these folks, too) or whether the provisions in a certain law are really as alarming as some would have us believe. For instance, I've seen headlines trumpeting that this law would "control home breadmaking." Uh, no, it won't, and such headlines just make those opposing this bill look like hysterical alarmists. It's easy to dismiss alarmists; let's dial down the hysteria. However, this bill, if passed in its current form, will make it significantly more difficult for small and artisan food producers to start and maintain a viable business. This will make it harder to find such foods. This bill, if passed as written, will actually make the food safety problem worse by eliminating sources of good, healthy, locally-produced artisan food products.
I believe small, new, and artisan food producers should be exempted from this law. At the very least, I believe that the compliance requirements should be as reasonable for Just Cured, who source and smoke sustainably-produced salmon, as it is for Hormel -- which means that Just Cured probably ought to pay $25 to register and be required simply to maintain records of purchases so that if a food safety issue arises, those records can be used to figure out what happened. But to require Just Cured or Blue Oven or Fab Ferments to jump through the same hoops as Pepsico and Heinz is not only silly but doesn't address the fact that Fab Ferments, which uses traditional fermenting methods to produce sauerkraut the same way it's been produced for centuries, isn't the source of the food safety problems we've seen over the past ten years. Artisans don't cause e.coli outbreaks. Industrial food giants do. Artisan food producers are the solution, not the problem. Let's ask our lawmakers to recognize that.
I'm not sure the answer is to ask our lawmakers to simply vote against this bill. We do need to address food safety issues in our industrial food supply. But we don't need to behave as if those same problems are inherent in all food production. They aren't.
Ask your congressperson to change this bill to exempt small, new, and artisan food producers. To email your congressperson, visit the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund's petition page, which takes you to a handy form where you can enter your address. Enter your message in the blank box, and it will be sent to your congressional representative. The message I'm recommending you send is this:
I believe small, new, and artisan food producers should be exempted from this bill. They are not the problem. They are the SOLUTION to our food safety problems. We should not be creating new barriers to entry and new compliance burdens for these small producers of healthy food.