House Resolution 875, or the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, was introduced by Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in February. DeLauro's husband, Stanley Greenburg, works for Monsanto – the world's leading producer of herbicides and genetically engineered seed.
DeLauro's act has 39 co-sponsors and was referred to the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 4. It calls for the creation of a Food Safety Administration to allow the government to regulate food production at all levels – and even mandates property seizure, fines of up to $1 million per offense and criminal prosecution for producers, manufacturers and distributors who fail to comply with regulations.
Michael Olson, host of the Food Chain radio show and author of "Metro Farm," told WND the government should focus on regulating food production in countries such as China and Mexico rather than burdening small and organic farmers in the U.S. with overreaching regulations.
"We need somebody to watch over us when we're eating food that comes from thousands and thousands of miles away. We need some help there," he said. "But when food comes from our neighbors or from farmers who we know, we don't need all of those rules. If your neighbor sells you something that is bad and you get sick, you are going to get your hands on that farmer, and that will be the end of it. It regulates itself."
The legislation would establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services "to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes."
Federal regulators will be tasked with ensuring that food producers, processors and distributors – both large and small – prevent and minimize food safety hazards such as food-borne illnesses and contaminants such as bacteria, chemicals, natural toxins or manufactured toxicants, viruses, parasites, prions, physical hazards or other human pathogens.
Under the legislation's broad wording, slaughterhouses, seafood processing plants, establishments that process, store, hold or transport all categories of food products prior to delivery for retail sale, farms, ranches, orchards, vineyards, aquaculture facilities and confined animal-feeding operations would be subject to strict government regulation.
Government inspectors would be required to visit and examine food production facilities, including small farms, to ensure compliance. They would review food safety records and conduct surveillance of animals, plants, products or the environment.
"What the government will do is bring in industry experts to tell them how to manage all this stuff," Olson said. "It's industry that's telling government how to set these things up. What it always boils down to is who can afford to have the most influence over the government. It would be those companies that have sufficient economies of scale to be able to afford the influence – which is, of course, industrial agriculture."
Farms and food producers would be forced to submit copies of all records to federal inspectors upon request to determine whether food is contaminated, to ensure they are in compliance with food safety laws and to maintain government tracking records. Refusal to register, permit inspector access or testing of food or equipment would be prohibited.
"What is going to happen is that local agriculture will end up suffering through some onerous protocols designed for international agriculture that they simply don't need," Olson said. "Thus, it will be a way for industrial agriculture to manage local agriculture."
Under the act, every food producer must have a written food safety plan describing likely hazards and preventative controls they have implemented and must abide by "minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water."
"That opens a whole can of worms," Olson said. "I think that's where people are starting to freak out about losing organic agriculture. Who is going to decide what the minimum standards are for fertilization or anything else? The government is going to bring in big industry and say we are setting up these protocols, so what do you think we should do? Who is it going to bring in to ask? The government will bring in people who have economies of scale who have that kind of influence."
DeLauro's act calls for the Food Safety Administration to create a "national traceability system" to retrieve history, use and location of each food product through all stages of production, processing and distribution.
"That is often the purpose of rules and regulations: to get rid of your competition," he said. "Only people who are very, very large can afford to comply. They can hire one person to do paperwork. There's a specialization of labor there, and when you are very small, you can't afford to do all of these things."
Olson said despite good intentions behind the legislation, this act could devastate small U.S. farms.
"Every time we pass a rule or a law or a regulation to make the world a better place, it seems like what we do is subsidize production offshore," he said. "We tell farmers they can no longer drive diesel tractors because they make bad smoke. Well, essentially what we're doing is giving China a subsidy to grow our crops for us, or Mexico or anyone else."