November 24, 2010
Citizens for Health reported on Monday that an agreement was reached last week on the Tester-Hagan Amendment to the Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510. The amendment would exempt smaller, organic and local growers from the complicated and expensive regulatory burdens better suited for the factory farms and corporate growers to which recent food safety issues have been attributed.
For months trade organizations representing the interests of big Agribusiness have supported passage of S.510, and the reason should come as no surprise. Corporate growers see it as an investment - they would get a boost to their public image by appearing to improve food safety practices while protecting themselves from some legal liabilities. The bonus for Agribusiness is that they can eliminate the competition: they can easily absorb the costs of compliance while local food producers and small farms would be levelled by the new regulatory burdens.
While this has been clear to local and organic food activists all along, Agribusiness let its true intentions be known late last week when twenty of its hired-gun lobbying groups sent a letter to the Senate stating that they would oppose S. 510 if it included the Tester-Hagan Amendment.
According to the lobbying groups' letter, “...incorporating the Tester amendment in the bill, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. In addition, it sets an unfortunate precedent for future action on food safety policy by Congress that science and risk based standards can be ignored.”
There is no data supporting this claim, nor is there any evidence of widespread problems caused by small farms, local producers, or those that market directly to consumers. In fact, the major food-borne illness outbreaks in the news have been traced to products that passed corporate Agribusiness' existing food safety measures, many arising from factory farms.
Agribusiness doesn't care one whit about food safety, unless it makes sense financially. The real reason they oppose the Tester-Hagan Amendment is that it sets a precedent - "unfortunate" for them indeed - that small, direct-marketing producers are different, and should be regulated differently, from the large Agribusinesses.
While the amendment is currently part of the updated bill agreed to by six bipartisan sponsors, until the final vote anything can change.
While we at Citizens for Health believe there are a number of other changes needed before we could support the bill, deleting the Tester-Hagan Amendment is an instant deal-breaker. Take a moment now to email your Senators and tell them they must not pass S. 510 unless the Tester-Hagan amendment remains a part of the bill.