Farmers Markets and Food Safety: What a Week!
Love the farmers market? With more than 5,000 farmers markets in full swing across the country, there’s sure to be one right near you. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vislack has declared this week, August 1-7, National Farmers Market Week. If you haven’t ventured to one in your area, this may be the perfect opportunity to do so.
Don’t know where to go? Thousands of markets are listed in the USDA Farmers Market Directory. The latest version of the directory comes out this week, too — obviously in conjunction with National Farmers Market Week. Last year the number of markets grew 13%. What kind of surge will we see this year?
Will the S.510, the Food Safety Bill come to a vote this week?
This week, too, proponents of the federal food safety bill, S.510 — the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act — hope it will come to a vote. The legislation would give the federal government the power to make our food safer and help stem the spread of food borne illnesses by giving the FDA the authority to, among other things:
- test for dangerous pathogens
- trace outbreaks back to their sources
- provide the FDA with mandatory food recall authority
- subject foods from overseas to the same standards as those for foods produced in the US
TAKE ACTION: Urge your Senators to vote for the food safety bill!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 5,000 people die each year as a result of food-borne illnesses. Many of these victims are toddlers who simply don’t have the immune systems to fight off infection. A mind-boggling 76 million people a year fall ill after eating tainted food, according to the CDC estimates. And 325,000 of them are sick enough to land in the hospital.
TAKE ACTION: Help prevent foodborne illness!
A number of prominent advocacy groups and individuals support S.510, the Food Safety Bill, including Consumers Union and Eric Schlosser, co-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc., and author of the best seller Fast Food Nation. Schlosser’s recent op-ed in The New York Times was right on target discussing the importance of passing the bill, and the surrounding issues of food safety. Here’s a video of Schlosser advocating for the bill:
Will the Food Safety Bill affect small farms?
The link to farmers markets is this: there’s been a good deal of concern that small producers — who by and large sell to farmers markets — wouldn’t be able to adhere to some of the regulations. Thus, the concern is that the bill would drive them out of business, in much the same way as small slaughterhouses were shut out by industrial plants after the massive consolidation of the meat industry.
“The Internet has been rife with wild rumors,” as Schlosser succinctly states in his op-ed, “that the bill is really a subterfuge cleverly designed to eliminate small farms and strengthen the grip of industrial agriculture.” But he continues, “the bill very clearly instructs the Food and Drug Administration to focus on its enforcement efforts on plants that pose the greatest risk of causing large-scale outbreaks. And the bill’s wording can still be clarified so that mom-and-pop producers aren’t threatened by heavy-handed government regulations.”
Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union agrees that there’s no reason for concern. “I don’t think it poses any threat to farmers markets, especially with all the provisions that have been added to the legislation,” she says. “There are provisions that the FDA must take biological diversity and organic producers into account. I think those kinds of farmers are protected.”
Consumers Union also says the bill recognizes the importance of small, sustainable and organic farms by:
- Directing FDA to ensure that its produce regulations do not conflict with and are not duplicative of organic requirements. (This was added by an amendment in Committee)
- Requiring the FDA to consider the impact of any produce regulations on small and diversified farms, as well as on conservation and the environment. (also added in Committee)
Concerns also abound that corporate farms would reap the benefits from exemptions proposed to help small farms. Halloran points to two amendments to the Food Safety Bill introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in April, which are designed to ease the burden small farmers believe the bill will impose on them if it passes. “I’m confident that in the end the bill will include provisions that adequately and effectively protect small farmers and processors with no loopholes for larger producers,” she says. Schlosser also points out in his op-ed, as well as on the video, that “what the legislation actually seeks is some restraint on unchecked corporate power.”
Poll shows Americans think FDA should have power to recall food
Consumers Union recently conducted a poll, asking 1,000 Americans if they thought the FDA should be given the power to recall tainted products. An overwhelming majority — 80% — said yes. As Schlosser says in his op-ed, our food will never be 100% safe — it’s unrealistic to think that it ever can be, but passing the Food Safety Bill S.510 is “a good first step.”
And Halloran and the bill’s proponents say, it’s crucial for the Food Safety Bill to come to a vote this week before the August recess. “If it doesn’t pass this year, then we’re back at square one,” she worries.
More from Care2 on the Food Safety Bill:
- Give the FDA the Power to Make Our Food Safe
- Join Care2, Eric Schlosser and Consumers Union in supporting S.510 — the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
- Sign this petition urging your Senators to bring the bill to a vote.
PHOTO CREDIT: freefoto.com