Monday, December 13, 2010


By Natalie Sirkin

“The federal bureaucracies en masse are exogenous factors weighing on an economy that is taxed, regulated and coerced almost to death” -- Donald A. Benedetti

The rationale for the food-safety act is food-contamination. Has there been any? Indeed there has. Examples are E. Coli and salmonella outbreaks in peanuts, eggs, lettuce, peppers, potatoes, spinach, and a million pounds recalled of sausage and salami. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 5,000 people die every year from food-contamination and 76,000 people are hospitalized.

These problems come from large-scale industrial food production or industrial agriculture, not from the small farmers covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010—but “one size fits all.” Safety is the rationale for the bill, fueled by competition to industrial agriculture from organic farmers whose business is growing rapidly.

The Senate’s food safety bill, S.510, passed easily last December 7 with a vote of 73-25. But the bill contains provisions calling for fees which, like taxes, add to the revenue of the government, that the Constitution says must originate in the House. So the following day, December 8, the House bill was taken up in the House and, amidst lobbying by hundreds of thousands opponents, it squeezed through by 212-206.

Originally, food safety was a House bill, HR 2749, passed long ago in June of 2009. It gives the Food and Drug Administration the right to recall food products. The Senate bill mandates more frequent inspections of food-processing plants. It requires food makers to have food-safety plans. It even gives authority and responsibility to the Environment Protection Agency to assist state, local, and tribal governments in decontaminating and recovering from food emergencies.

FDA can conduct warrantless searches of business records even if there is no evidence that a law was broken.

FDA is empowered to quarantine an entire contaminated output over a wide geographic area. Prior to this bill, FDA could do those things but needed a warrant.

Businesses, associations, importers, and other entrepreneurs involved in production, storage, and transportation of food must register, which costs $500. That provision has been deleted from the Senate bill for firms whose revenue is under $500,000 in the most recent three years and who sell directly to consumers or restaurants within 275 miles of where the food is produced. (Most of the provisions noted in this column are in the original House bill, which the representatives considered superior to the Senate bill.)

The House bill declares that if you have a garden and have sold some surplus to your neighbor, you have to register.

FDA can without good reason descend upon a food maker’s place of business, search it, and make off with produce or books of record. The cause for the raid could be trite. The owner could have advertised—and this has happened—that food supplements could lower the blood-sugar levels of pets or that vitamin keep animals healthy.

The bill demands fees which can be “ruinously expensive” for small farmers.

In the event of a “major contamination” or an emergency, all farms will be put under the Homeland Security Department.

The language is vague. The House bill mandates FDA to facilitate “harmonization of American food laws with Codex Alimentarius,” a controversial international reference standard drawn up by the United Nations in the 1960s.

Paperwork infractions are subject to a fine of $500,000 for a single offense. Violation of an FDA regulation is subject to a fine of up to $100,000 or ten years in prison. Organic farmers or retailers could be subjected to requirements contravening their standards, like use of pesticides or fertilizers.

The bill gives the FDA the right to dictate how crops are grown and how food is produced. FDA can determine that seeds are not “safe” unless the crop is genetically modified. It can require all farms to adopt the modification.

In short, FDA bureaucrats are the central planners of 21st century agriculture. Lacking the knowledge and experience of farmers, they have the authority of Maoist dictators. Mao dictated “deep plowing, close planting, and heavy fertilization,” that every Chinese peasant had to follow, which produced “catastrophic crop failures,” according to sinologists Miriam and Ivan London in their article “The Other China, Hunger.” The Londons studied China and Chinese agriculture over ten years. The food shortage developed into a nation-wide famine, starving over fifty million to death in 1959 through 1962 and beyond. Parallels notwithstanding, of course no one could imagine that that could ever happen here.

Incidentally, the FDA does not control all food. The Department of Agriculture still has jurisdiction over 20 percent, including cup cakes in bakeries.

Food-safety whistleblower Dr. Shiv Chopra of Canada comments:

“If accepted [the food-safety bill] would preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes. It will become the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food . . .”

By Natalie Sirkin

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