Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Food Safety Enhancement Act HR 2749

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:

  1. preventive controls being implemented;
  2. procedure for monitoring preventive controls;
  3. procedures for taking corrective action;
  4. 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;
  5. recordkeeping procedures;
  6. procedures for the recall of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
  7. procedures for the trace back of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
  8. 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
  9. procedures to implement the science-based performance standards issued.
I'm thinking this will put some of our artisan producers out of business.

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.


Jill said...

Thanks for the post. My representative and senators received an email. I enjoy your blog-keep it up!

CathySue said...

Wonderful blog. Thank you from the Fund - we appreciate the link to the petition page!

valereee said...

CathySue, thanks! I'm glad you commented -- I had forgotten to mention the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund in the blog. I made that change.

Jill, thanks!

The Baklava Queen said...

Absolutely, Valereee. When I saw the first post about it on the OEFFA listserv, I looked up the bill and did some research, then called the Ohio member of Congress on the committee (just before they went into markup) to say, you know, there's a good bit in here I would support, but you can't treat small producers the same way you treat the big boys. The problems aren't the same, they're not on the same scale, and the regulations would drive small producers out of business at a time when we REALLY need to rebuild our local food systems.

The bill is out of committee now, but it apparently hasn't come up for consideration in the House, so I'm not totally sure how far it will get.

You're absolutely right, though -- dial down the hysteria. Congress has heard from enough people that there are problems with the food safety system in the country, and they're trying to address those problems. They're not always taking the right tack (when guided by the corporations causing most of the problems, what do you expect?), but they do respond to calls and letters from their constituents, and a reasoned, well-thought-out argument gets noticed in a much more favorable light than a hysterical screed.

Quim said...

One of the things about this that bugs me is that the people who want this stuff, know what they want and go out of their way to get it. These products aren't sitting next to the commercial products on the major grocer's shelves. These producers don't ship their product all over the world.
Maybe the cutoff should be according to $ amount sold and miles distributed ?

Tree said...

Thanks for making me aware of this issue. I too think it's stupid. I also think we are going to see a lot more laws like this in the near future as it's a quick and dirty way for the government to make money.

I like your blog. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I sent the message you suggested. Thanks for keeping us informed!


Vanessa Scocchera said...

We have the same law in Europe and also in Italy where I came from. My job there was as a veterinarian private consultant to help small-medium bussines apply this exact law. Despite the apparent financial burden bussines got the idea that those quality health plan actually save them money and catastrophic recalls, improve quality and sometime slim practices. At the same time I worked with small typical food (salami, cheese, etc) producer to make sure their way of making food with practices inherited from family ancestors would be preserved (so that we could save our cultural food tresure against massive industrial production).
Why this law is necessary in the 21st Century:
1) The ability to transport food far away from where is produced comes with increase risks.
2) Ingredients: in a global economy to keep the bussines profittable many companies started to buy low price ingredients that were not local anymore and some times they were of doubtfull quality or safety.
3) To contain costs bussines do not always provide adequate training for employees to keep the food safe and there is a higher turn over due to economy fluctuations.
I too do not agree that the small and the big company need to pay the same fees. This is not right. I do believe they need to be subject to the same level of accountability. The notion that the size of a bussines determins the level of safety is wrong. You can kill the same number of people in a food born outbrake, no matter who produced the food, if the big or the small company.
There is a considerable lack of veterinarians making sure your food is safe here in USA. A lot of foods and ingridients are imported and there is hardly any control on the producer in other countries. Also for example, you can have the best practice ever in the big meat factory, but if the meat is not handled well in the small restourant you can still have big problems. And I assure you I saw some restourant kithcens here in Cincinnati that really do not deserve to be open. I saw employees handling food with gloves touching their nose or their head or money and then keeping the same gloves to grab food, at this point the gloves give a false sense of safety. So there is a lot of work to be done and it will cost money and everyone need to chip in according to the size of the bussines and the health risk they pose.
Do not forget here in USA, according to CDC, there are "approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year". According to CDC "for every food born hillness case reported 25 go unreported". Infact "most foodborne infections
go undiagnosed and unreported, either because the ill person does not see a doctor, or the doctor does not make a specific diagnosis". And despite the deaths tall is low, the illness itself means a big cost to bear for families, bussines and government. Just for the reported cases of Salmonellosis,"ERS estimates that the annual economic cost of salmonellosis—the illness caused by the Salmonella bacterium—is $2,646,750,437 (2008 dollars). .... It excludes a number of other potential costs, such as those associated with chronic complications, disutility for nonfatal illness, pain and suffering, travel, childcare, etc." (
You can read about Europe here

More informations on food born illness


During my job in Italy I always kept in mind what my Professor always told us "Always remember if perfect safe food means no food at all, you need to compromise a little. Anyways food has always been like a medicine it is good for you, but carry some negative side effects becouse of its own nature."

American Association for Health Freedom said...

My organization, The American Association for Health Freedom, located in Washington, D.C., is actively forming a coalition with concerned citizens and small farm/for producer organizations to stop this law from passing. If you are an organization interested in joining our cause, email us at If you are interested in reading more on the bill and our organizations take, and are interested in signing a petition online for your congressman/senator, visit

We strongly believe that if passed this bill would destroy the small farm/food production business. We need to stand up for our rights!

Matt said...

VOTE IS TODAY ... it failed to pass in fast track yesterday but a standard vote will occur today.

Chris Sonne, PE, LEED AP said...

Well, it passed the House... This bill is well intentioned, and could serve a useful purpose - if it is changed to take small producers into account. The original post is not quite correct that the local goat cheese maker must follow the same rules as Tysons though (Tyson is USDA regulated, and therefore exempt from this regulation!).
I disagree with Vanessa's contention that this law is necessary for all producers. We all live with a certain amount of risk in this world, and the minuscule distribution network associated with most small producers means that even if my local farmer's market cheese supplier provides me with some toxic cheese, it is doubtful that more than a dozen people would be affected. (In reality, the local producers are typically working with fresh, healthy hormone/antibiotic/pesticide free raw materials, and never have a serious problem).
Without some real changes, HR2749 will cut deeply into my local foods suppliers, and many will just decide it's not worth the hassle and extra expense!

Vanessa Scocchera said...

Refering to Chris Sonne comment.
In Europe after approving the main law I immagine similar to the one they are trying to pass now in USA,they needed to make an emendament to exempt small local producer from some restrictions becouse otherwise many original products could not be produced anymore. For example in my region there is a cheese colled "marcetto" ( made by letting the cheese be digested from larvae of a particular fly. This cheese is really good, and yet the European main law would have made this product disappear. So Europe gave the possibility to each European country to pass a list of "typical" local products, made mostly from small local producers. So for example in Italy each region made a list of products with the list of ingredients and their origin, the description of production with a scientific explanation of why each product made for so long time with the same process during the history does not pose a risk for the consumer. Then this list become part of a Italian law that collected the list from all the regions of Italy. I wrote the technical part of the product list of my region Abruzzo ( Of course those exeption would apply only to strictly local distribution. If someone start making the same product in an industrial scale it would automatically follow the main more severe law. Still the small producer needed to keep a sort of self-checking plan to demostrate the authority what they were doing in case of an inspection. With this law for example the italian authorithy a few years ago was able to find some small producers of "mozzarella di bufala" that were importing dry bufala milk from Bolivia to make the "local famous mozzarella". Just to give you an example. The news destroied the trust in the product also the one made with real italian milk of bufala, for a while, causing a big economic loss. The law in Europe now protects the consumers and protect honest producers from the dishonest ones. In Europe we make thousands of cheeses and meet products that USA will never import becouse made with unpastorized milk or raw meet. At the same time Europe does not import American meet becouse USA allow the use of higher dosage of hormones and antibiotics.
I did not read the USA law as proposed, I just read articles about it. I hope it will serve the same purpose of the European one.

Chris Sonne, PE, LEED AP said...

Unfortunately, this bill take the typical USA "one-size fits all/trust us" approach that has become all too common. If we had any assurance that the law will be handled similar to the (apparently) reasonable European approach, I would have less problem with it.
In order to make this law more reasonable, very small producers should have NO annual fee (while very large producers should have a very large fee). The requirements for risk analysis plans/food safety plans/reporting and inspection all need to be modified or eliminated for many of these very small producers. For example - a local gardener who want to sell a few extra tomatoes at a roadside stand does NOT need any of the above plans!
The craziest thing in this act is that USDA regulated meat/poultry/egg facilities are exempt! This means that the tainted beef, mad-cow, contaminated chicken concerns are in no way addressed by the Food Safety Act! Go figure!