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Food Safety or Food Foolishness?

As I listened to the short video from the Michael Fields Institute about the challenges small farmers will now confront to maintain compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (/, I found myself wondering if the FSMA was an example of: #1 an over-reaching government; #2 a product of an out-of-touch bureaucracy; or #3, a power grab orchestrated by a cabal of big business and government allies.

I now think it walks like a government, talks like an out-of-touch official, and ends up being a tool of some very real strategic alliances.

The rationale for the law itself is an outgrowth of fear. The fear is a result of a food system we cannot manage, events we do not understand, and the tendency we consumers have to place blame whenever something bad happens. To help assign blame lawmakers decided to try to create accountability in the food system and what they actually did was complicate the task of diagnosing and preventing an adverse event in order to secure what they label “modernization.”

Consider the journey from seed to fruit to processor to market to consumer. In the “old fashioned” model a cluster of families had a farmer who put food on their tables either directly or through a grocer. If something was wrong with a particular item there were a limited number of potential victims. Easy enough to investigate and solve. Within a few days everyone involved knew where things stood. Now fast forward to “modern times.”

Today most farmers around the country have arranged to centralize the process, do not know their customers, and the customers for the farmer are warehouses and packing plants and agents. Sadly, the customers don’t know their farmer either. So what happens when there is something wrong, something toxic?The answer is we have a national outbreak with a spider web of threads the investigators have to work through to understand who and where the victims are.

Enter the knights in shining armor, your elected representatives, your paid problem-solvers who we hope can spend the time and resources to “create systems” that hold the right people accountable, and prevent similar issues from happening again. Unfortunately they are unable to see the problem independently because they are bombarded by the big food lobbyists (see #3) and did not hear from enough of us.

Here are three things I wish were considered:

  • Food systems that are direct and simpler are easier to improve and maintain.

  • Long before there were chemistry labs people grew and locally distributed safe food.

  • People who grow food on a small farm care about the soil, the food, and the consumer.

It is true that the FDA comment period has passed to influence their rules, but it is equally true that your voice can blend with millions of others to get our politicians to roll this back. Educate yourselves, watch this short flick with our friends from Michael Fields Institute: and write everyone you can in Washington DC.
Most of our suppliers in our Produce departments will be spending a great deal of time and money to comply. It is inescapable that it will be costly. Large farms can absorb the hit. Think about it!

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