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Senate Bill S.510 :: What it Means to You and Your FOOD

For it to be considered “lame duck” season in Washington, colossal legislation has been passed, as it relates to our food supply and control. The press’ coverage was likely muffled by stories of unemployment and Bush tax-cut extensions or even those T.S.A. pat downs. While the aforementioned are all greatly worthy of reporting, I think nutritional safety is of relative salience.

Approved by the Senate with a vote of 73-25 this past Tuesday, S.510 or the Food Safety Modernization Act was a bill introduced “to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to the safety of the food supply.” Its ultimate purpose was to grant the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security more power in a proactive capacity, as opposed to its current reactive authority, when food dangers are discovered.

Note: Livestock and poultry facilities are not included in this particular food safety bill. Chicken, beef, etc. ... will remain under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Take the recent salmonella poisoning outbreak from tainted eggs (that sickened over 1,600 consumers), it was speculated to have been preventable. And with internal processing oversight and limited governmental grounds to scrutinize operations, the food-borne illness survived through various channels, without public alert. To curtail future and like occurrences, S.510 gives the FDA the right to hold more inspections and trace the steps (read: paper trail) of our food - from growing to processing and transporting to our local grocers or restaurants. Safety of imported foods are also facing tougher quality checks. Hopefully, with those added “eyes,” halting the implementation and distribution of unnecessary food-based diseases, that lead to ailments and fatalities.

On the surface, this bill seems like it should have long been in place. Regardless of political affiliation, who would oppose of ensuring that Americans aren’t harmed as a result of simply, eating something? Well, there’s more opposition to this than I ever would have thought. First, the cost of the overhaul over the next 5 years, would be $1.4B* - another hit to our country's deficit. But primarily due to the fact that the government is extending its power and the commercial power of big corporations, like agricultural giant, Monsanto.

The fear of many with this legislation was that it would put the “little people” in the food industry, out of business. Standards were slated to hold small farmers and producers in the same regard as large corporations. The new fees and administrative duties that were going to be required for them under this bill, would be costly and unsustainable - resulting in closures. Fortunately, the Tester Amendment (proposed by democratic Senator Jon Tester) was attached to the main bill. This exempted farmers/producers who took in less than $500K within a 3-year period and who only sold within 275 miles of their base. However, its wording is perceived as vague and still could leave it up to the FDA’s discretion, as to who would fall under this umbrella.

A bigger concern was the threat of non-commercial food growing and sharing. Yeah, your garden was going to be seized by the government and you'd be arrested! This was actually an inflated message, egged on by the likes of fear-mongering Glenn Beck and friends.

But the leading suspicion of this bill's intent, is that it’s backed by, you guessed it - big food and big seed. Conspiracy theorist feel as though the root ambition of the bill is to create a monopoly affect in the food industry by indirectly reducing the sources of the American food supply. The more money you have, the more reasonable it is to be able to afford the costs associated with these new standards. It may even be a small price to pay, to weed out (pun) the lesser in the market, to increase big food’s reach. Given the government's longstanding affinity with agricultural heavyweights and their astounding volume of campaign contributions to those who voted "Yea," you do the math.

I suppose like Health Care Reform … we really won’t be able to see how (or who) S.510 will help or hurt, until it’s in place. While it all looked cleared and ready to go back to the House for approval of some changes and then to President Obama for a signature, there was a temporary hold put on the bill. Apparently, there were provisions created by the Senate involving “fees,” or revenue, which can only be initiated in the House. It'll be interesting to see if this gets resolved and passed before the new class of legislators (Republican majority) charge in. At that point, I highly doubt passage is going to be as simple.

So, two cheers for food safety and leaving my farmers' market alone … and major side-eye at special interests. I swear, we can’t win for losing sometimes.

Sources: 

Food Safety Modernization Act - Senate Bill S.510 (GovTrack.us)
Food Safety Modernization Act - PDF (Senate.gov)
Food Safety Modernization Act: The Basics (Eatocracy.CNN.com)
Food Safety Overhaul (CBSNews.com)
Jon Stewart's Take on Senate's Passage of S.510 (ComedyCentral.com)
Tester Amendment: Address on Senate Floor (YouTube.com)
Technicality Puts Food Safety Measure on Ice (WallStreetJournal.com)

~PC