Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is the Government controlling what we eat?

For years, a hoax email has been doing the rounds - warning of a new bill being passed in Congress that would "criminalize growing your own food" and "outlaw organic farming." You can read it here.

Armed with that knowledge, I'd assumed news of Senate Bill S.510 - or the "FDA Food Safety Modernization Act" was a similar hoax. Sadly, I was mistaken.

This law, which was recently passed by both houses on Capital Hill, was introduced to help maintain the safety of food produced in the United States - something very much in the public's attention after a couple of major health scares regarding eggs and spinach.

The bill basically hands all domestic food production into the hands of the Food and Drug Administration. It will call upon all food producers - from national giants to the smallest farms and orchards - to register with the federal government and abide by certain regulations and restrictions.

The bill brings in stringent new paperwork requirements, and draconian fees for violation. It also arms the FDA with thousands of new officials and officers to perform inspections and ensure compliance.

Which, on the surface of it, sounds like a good thing. More frequent inspections will mean fewer violations. Better paperwork tracking will make it easier to track contamination to the source. Tougher fees will make it much less attractive to dodge filling in the correct paperwork.

But the problem with the bill is that it's a complete farce.

All these expensive regulations and measures are being brought in to reduce the risk of food contamination, but none of them affect food grown outside of the United States.

That's ironic, given that the recent e.coli outbreaks in spinach and tomatoes that made the headlines were tracked down to Mexican production facilities, while the poisoned pet food scandal that broke a few years ago involved food imported from China.

Secondly, the cost of all these new enforcements are going to be passed along to American consumers, making domestic food more expensive (a concession even supporters of the bill admit.)

Foreign food won't be hit by this increase in costs, making it even less cost-effective to grow food at home and even more attractive to outsource jobs and production to Mexico, Canada and further abroad.

Thirdly, it treats small food producers largely the same as big ones. A Mom & Pop outfit making organic fruit jam will be forced to comply with the same expensive regulations as a national factory-farming giant, churning out millions of dessicated chickens per year.

The reason the bill's supported by so many corporate lobbyists is because it essentially guarantees putting hundreds of small production facilities out of business. It's all done in the name of 'food safety', too - which is ironic because every major food scare in recent history has been tracked down to a large food production facility - never a small local or organic one

And finally - and perhaps most alarmingly - the bill puts authority for what is and isn't 'acceptable' to produce in America in the hands of the FDA (one of the most corrupt organizations on Earth.)

If the FDA decide an organic grain variety is unacceptable, for example, they can outlaw it. If they don't like a particular species of crop, it can be banned. Given that the FDA is largely sponsored by corporate lobbyists for immense multi-national corporations, how long will it be before we see innovations that threaten their supremacy 'banned' in the interests of 'food safety'?

(Think I'm exaggerating? Read about how the FDA banned Red Yeast, because this natural supplement reduced cholesterol more safely, effectively and - worst of all - cheaply than the expensive Statins the pharmaceutical giants had spent millions patenting.)

S. 510 threatens to wipe out farms and farmers across the United States - basically relegating what we can and can't eat into the hands of a few, select multinational corporations. It's one of the most transparently corrupt and utterly ineffectual bills I've seen in recent times - and one that promises to have a devastating effect on the life and livelihood of millions of Americans.

The sad fact is? Barring dotting the i's and crossing the t's, all it's waiting for is Barack Obama's signature before it actually becomes law.

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