Changing the One-Size-Fits-All Food Safety Approach to One that Helps Us Live Better
Editor’s Note: This is the full text of the keynote speech by Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director, at the Feast Down East Conference on March 1, 2013.
When the conference organizers at Feast Down East approached me about this keynote last fall, they asked me to give an inspirational speech that addresses why having a strong local food system is important to our future as a region and a people. And I thought, ‘gee, that’s pretty wide open, where do I even begin.’ For a couple of months I batted around ideas, hoping for some inspiration myself. But that all changed on Jan. 4 of this year.
Jan. 4 is when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its proposed rules to govern the production of raw produce, and the processing of most value-added foods. And since that date, just about every single day, I have read or written something related to these proposed rules. FDA has issued these rules under authority of a law passed by Congress in 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA in government-speak. This act was billed at the time as the biggest update of our food safety laws since the novel, “The Jungle,” exposed the horrors of the meatpacking industry over one hundred years ago. FSMA explicitly gives FDA wide new authority to set the rules for how farmers work many crops, and for how food businesses run their operations day-to-day. With its Jan. 4 proposed rules, FDA shows just what it intends to do with that newfound authority. Anyone who believes in the power of strong local food systems, who believes in their importance to us as a region and a people, needs to be extremely concerned about these FDA actions.
Now many of you know that Congress put certain protections in FSMA, protections intended to ensure that small farms and local foods are not strangled by industrial-scale food safety regulation. I am proud to say that Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the local food movement in the Carolinas played a critical role in winning those protections. It was truly an against-the-odds victory. For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that scale matters when it comes to food and farming, and that one-size-does-not-fit-all when it comes to regulating agriculture. By limiting FDA’s power to govern small farms and food makers predominantly serving local markets, Congress intended that the local food sector should continue to thrive, continue to offer consumers a healthy alternative to faceless processed food, and continue to create jobs.
But I am here to tell you that, despite that astonishing legislative achievement, we are not out of the woods yet. Indeed, we now have a target on our backs. The giant corporations that sell most of the food in this country used to just ignore and dismiss local food. They focused on their business of gaming our food policies and squeezing more and more American farms of every size out of business. Now those corporations are on the attack, charging that local food and small farms are risky and dangerous because they won’t be subject to FSMA. And so far, many so-called consumer advocates have joined this corporate campaign, insisting that local, organic food should be subject to the equivalent of a full body cavity search from FDA. They demonize anyone who disagrees with the one-size-must-fit-all orthodoxy.
That’s where I want to start with my main points here this morning. How our nation talks about regulating food safety has got to change, and we in this room need to lead that change. Here’s what I mean.
Supporters of the one-size-fits-all approach punctuate virtually every argument about safety regulations with the tragic images of children in hospitals and families torn apart forever due to foodborne illness. They say that if you can’t accept the necessity for every farm and food maker to comply with uniform rules, then you are an enemy to children and families. I have witnessed corporate lobbyists, consumer advocates, and even FDA officials wave this bloody shirt when faced with well-reasoned suggestions for scale-appropriate safety rules. And we as a community need to call this tactic out for what it is—intimidation—and we need to demand that it stop.
Every single one of us can relate to the pain and tragedy of needlessly losing a loved one. Every farmer and food maker is either a parent or a child, or both. Any parent’s heart rends at the thought of a child suffering. I am a parent, and I dread the chance that food that I prepare for my children with my own hands might cause them serious harm. No farmer or food maker wants to cause pain with the foods they create. Local food producers agree that we should take effective steps to prevent doing harm to our customers, and they accept that the costs of foodborne illness can be terrible. It’s not a subject of dispute. And so the sheer tragedy of the worst incidents cannot be offered as the end of the debate about what our society does to prevent foodborne illness.
There are four premises that our society must accept in the discussion about food safety. The first is that no farmer wants to cause harm to their customers, and the second is that we cannot achieve zero risk. And FDA has repeatedly acknowledged that second point. Even if we irradiated, baked and boiled 100% of the food we eat, pathogens will get through the system somewhere on the journey from field to processing facility to retailer to kitchen to plate, and people will get sick. Microbes evolve at a startlingly fast rate, and we simply cannot hope to somehow get ahead of Mother Nature. Indeed, many of the interventions we can pursue to limit pathogens will have other negative health consequences for consumers. Raw leafy greens are really good for you, and people should eat them.
The third principle is that we live in a world of finite resources. Governments, large corporations, small business, and consumers all must make choices about how to allocate limited time and dollars to address problems. There is only so much money the government can raise to fund food safety enforcement, and small businesses that want to stay in business cannot spend more to limit pathogens than what the market will pay for food products. What’s more, given the second principle that we cannot reach zero risk, we have to recognize there are diminishing, marginal returns to additional public and private food safety investments such that beyond a certain point they become ineffective and counterproductive.
The fourth principle is that healthy, local, organic food, fresh food grown in our communities, artisanal food made by our neighbors, has disproportionate positive impacts on people’s lives, and on public health. We know that money recirculated within our own communities makes our economies stronger and more resilient, and that healthy economies support healthy people. We know that better diets lead to less heart disease, less obesity, less chronic illness, and happier, healthier lives. We know that reducing diet-related illness reduces public health care costs. We know that our diet in this country is killing us. Fifty-thousand people die every year in this country from colon cancer, almost a quarter million die from complications of diabetes, and 800,000 die from heart disease. Our diet may be the gravest threat to human health in the US today, one that we will be coping with for another generation or more. Local food systems will be huge in overcoming that threat.
When we proceed from these four principles, we can actually start to have the conversation about how we allocate limited resources to reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses. There must be a cost-benefit analysis if we want food safety law to improve public health. And I say that deliberately – improve public health. I am not interested in building a food system that merely avoids killing us unexpectedly. I am interested in a food system that helps us live better.
Federal agencies estimate that 9.4 million people get a foodborne stomach bug every year, and that 56,000 people are hospitalized from pathogen contaminated food. Those are significant numbers, and yet, with 310 million Americans eating on average 2 to 3 meals a day, 365 days a year, we are consuming about 300 billion meals per year. If those 300 billion meals result in 56,000 hospital trips, then 99.99 percent of the food we eat is not causing severe foodborne illness.
From this perspective, we can see that local food is contributing to food safety success. And from this perspective, we must evaluate the cost of further regulatory impositions on local food producers.
And I say ‘further’ impositions, because one of the facts that is lost in the discussion of so-called food safety ‘exemptions’ for small farms and businesses is that these folks are already heavily regulated. From local health department’s oversight of farmers markets, to the NC State pickle school that provides licenses for low risk processed food producers, to home kitchen inspections, to federal good manufacturing practices, and more, local food producers are already laboring under a patchwork of rules and regulations. FSMA’s protections for local food are really about recognizing that this existing legal framework is already working quite well, at a sometimes significant cost of compliance to producers, and at a relatively low cost of enforcement for government.
Make no mistake, government benefits from the current system. FDA cannot afford to police every one of the millions of American farms and food entrepreneurs that are contributing to our food supply, and it makes no sense to do so because so much of the food produced from American farms, family businesses and food hubs is a low risk for causing foodborne illness.
FDA released analyses along with the FSMA proposed rules that document hundreds of processed foods and produce items that are inherently unlikely to harbor pathogens. FDA also confirms that food processing businesses with less than $1million in revenue account for only 2 percent of the US food supply. It makes no sense to waste limited government dollars to impose further regulations on these low risk foods. And it makes no sense to apply new rules designed for complex, national and international food supply chains to the inherently short supply chains that characterize local food distribution. These local, diffused supply chains by their nature impose strict limits on the possible extent of foodborne illness outbreaks, and safety rules must take that into account if they are to be efficient and effective.
It’s instructive to compare the approach in FSMA to foreign food suppliers. Twenty percent of our food supply comes from foreign countries. Thirty-five percent of our produce is imported, which is three times the share of the produce market that small domestic fruit and vegetable farms supply. And the market share for imports increases every year.
Of course, the US Congress cannot grant FDA authority to conduct inspections in foreign countries, so FSMA creates a system that amounts to self-certification by foreign suppliers that they have adequate safety measures in place. Which leads to an obvious question: If it’s good enough for foreign food, why isn’t it good enough for local food? Why would we give foreign producers this competitive advantage if we are concerned in this nation about the loss of farmers and farmland and about our food security?
We need solutions that work to keep the public not only safe, but healthy and enriched, and that promote opportunities for new people to enter agriculture, start businesses, and create jobs, shared value and community-based economic growth. And despite the perils that the proposed FSMA rules present, they also offer the local food movement an opportunity to shape our own destiny when it comes to food safety. And that brings me to my second major point.
It is not enough for local food producers to take our chances on being exempt from FSMA, and to rely on assumptions that ‘my farm has never made anyone sick before’. We must recognize that just telling consumers to wash produce will not prevent illness, because the science clearly demonstrates that washing alone does not significantly reduce pathogen loads. Instead, we must create a comprehensive alternative structure for local food safety, one that takes advantage of our inherent strengths, that increases producers’ access to the best scientific information on protecting customers, and that enhances the ability of farms and businesses to compete in the marketplace. In short, we must always strive to improve our safety performance, and win recognition from regulators and buyers that we are doing the best we possibly can.
FDA’s proposed FSMA rules expose just how fragile the so-called ‘exemptions’ for local food can be in the face of government arrogance and corporate pressure. FDA is proposing loopholes in the law’s local food protections that threaten to swallow those protections completely.
Moreover, FSMA’s protections generally only apply to businesses with less than $500,000 in food sales. If we want local, healthy food systems to grow, if we want market opportunities that will encourage a new generation of sustainable farmers, we will need businesses that grow beyond $500,000, especially food hubs and other collaborative processing and distribution models.
And regardless of whether FSMA applies to an individual local food producer, the market will respond to the federal rules by adopting them as private standards. Insurance companies and retail outlets will require farms and food makers to comply with FSMA as a condition of market access—unless we take the initiative to create a safety system for local food that is tailored to the actual risks we create and tailored to the economic conditions on our farms.
And that is our opportunity at this moment. We can offer a solution to FDA’s impossible challenge of uniformly enforcing safety rules. The answer is establishing equivalency between what works in local food and what is necessary in complex corporate supply chains. The answer is to demand that government, markets and insurance companies treat local producers the same as foreign suppliers.
We need to band together, farmers and foodmakers alike, to establish our own standards and approaches to address our greatest risks while preserving the accessibility of local, organic markets for new food and farming entrepreneurs. In best tradition of agricultural community cooperation, we can establish effective, regional safety certification and training systems, run by us, by our community. These regional, scale- and market-based entities would set research priorities, distribute information to farmers and food makers on the latest applicable science, set our own certification requirements, and conduct safety certifications that government and insurance companies alike will accept. This is a vision for a food safety government of our community, by our community, and for our community, and for a better food supply for all.
So how do we get this done? First, we document the egregious problems with the FSMA rules. FDA’s proposals weigh in at over 1,500 pages, and are riddled with flawed assumptions, false conclusions, logical inconsistencies, circular definitions, and incomplete data.
People at CFSA and at our sister organizations across the country are combing through those pages now to identify as many of the potential pitfalls as possible, so we can have thorough, well-researched and detailed criticisms, as well as kudos where appropriate, to offer to FDA. Then it will be essential for you, the farmers and food makers and consumers of local organic food, to take those theoretical problems and bring them to life with examples from your own knowledge and experience. The national grassroots comment campaign from the local organic ag community will start in earnest at the end of this month, about six weeks before the comment period ends (EDITOR’S NOTE: The comment period of the FSMA has been extended. For more information, read the excellent NSAC blog post). I can’t stress enough how important it will be to have you participate in that campaign. We’re not talking about 100,000 auto-generated email comments, but specific real life illustrations of how these rules will jeopardize farmers’ rights to grow, small businesses’ rights to make, and families’ rights to eat healthy, local food. And if you are not already a CFSA member I am asking you right now to go to sign up for our action alerts so you can be ready when the grassroots campaign begins in earnest. Share this issue with your customers and neighbors, and encourage them to comment, too.
That’s the first step. But simultaneous with that immediate urgent issue, we also need to start work on creating our alternative vision, and we must all participate in creating it. CFSA has gotten started on this work already. We have spent the last two years working with a dozen diversified small farms to find out if we can get them through a USDA Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, audit, and documenting exactly how much time and money it takes pass. The good news is that so far every farm that’s gotten audited has passed, and no one has had to eliminate manure fertilizers, kick livestock off the farm, or install stainless steel countertops to do it. The beauty of USDA GAPs is that it provides flexibility, unlike the proposed FSMA rules. Just because a GAP inspector faults one element of your food safety plan doesn’t mean you fail the audit. And this is a great foundation to build upon.
And there are similar programs being developed for local food systems across the country. The National Good Food Network has pioneered a ‘group GAP’ program that holds the promise of helping cooperatives and food hubs to earn certification without every single participating farm having to undergo inspection. These programs and others like them offer our movement a platform for building a food safety system that is safe for local organic food. And we need more of you involved to validate them. CFSA will be doing more trainings on our GAP program this year, and will offer cost shares to farmers applying for GAP certification. And in the fall, we will begin convening meetings of farmers and food makers and food buyers across the Carolinas to identify the next steps we have to take to create an equivalent alternative to the industrial food safety model. We need you to be a part of those conversations, but if we don’t know how to find you, we can’t involve you. So sign up for our action alerts from CFSA, even join us as a CFSA member. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to get involved in this discussion.
Making a scale-appropriate local food safety system will require talking with our customers about safety issues, frankly and forthrightly, explaining to them the realities of food production and the solutions that the local organic food movement can offer. Farms and food makers serving local and markets are committed to strengthening their communities and to protecting the soil, air and water upon which we all depend. An essential part of that commitment is providing customers the healthiest foods they can.
Sustainable farms, regardless of size, want to do the best job possible to protect public health, and are playing a vital role in reducing the epidemics of diet-related diseases ravaging this nation. Our food laws and regulations must ensure that local farms and food producers can prosper and continue to contribute to a healthier national diet. But that won’t magically happen by itself. We have to take responsibility for protecting ourselves and our communities.
From my years of working at CFSA, and travelling across this region visiting with farmers and farm-lovers, I know the caliber of people that you represent. I know how amazing you are and how committed you are to building a better food future. And because of that, because of the amazing people that you are, I am confident—indeed, I am certain—that working together, we can turn the threat of FSMA into the greatest opportunity we have yet had to create a vibrant, just, and nurturing agriculture in our communities and across this nation. I hope you are as excited about the possibilities as I am.
CFSA and Anson County Farmers Advocate for Policies That Will Help Sustainable Farms Thrive
by Jared Cates, CFSA’s Community Mobilizer
April 23, 2013
At the beginning of April, I was fortunate enough to visit Gary and Kelly Sikes’ farm, Bountiful Harvest, in Polkton, NC. When I was growing up, my family rode through this region of the state on our back-road trips for holiday visits. I fondly remember staring out the car windows at the rolling fertile farmland and all of the cows and farms; the beauty of this part of the state always mesmerized me.
As I entered Anson County, I was enveloped by the green freshness of spring that was just starting to take over from winter. I think the taste of the cool spring air felt especially uplifting because I had already had a long day. Earlier that morning I attended the 7th annual Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Legislative Breakfast at the General Assembly in Raleigh. It was an excellent event and a great opportunity to meet many freshman and seasoned state Senators and Representative who were eager to learn about organic agriculture and local foods in North Carolina. Sandi Kronick of Eastern Carolina Organics gave an impassioned speech highlighting the importance of local foods and organics and how this growing market is creating real jobs in her business and throughout the state.
As soon as the breakfast was over, I made my way to Bountiful Harvest Farm to meet with CFSA member farmers and U.S. Congressman Richard Hudson of the 8th District. Congressman Hudson is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is on the House Agriculture Committee; he will be doing important work on the farm bill this year. The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Bountiful Harvest Farm invited Congressman Hudson to visit for a farm tour and to hear from our members about organic production.
Unfortunately, the wet weather cancelled the farm tour, but the Congressman was still excited to visit the Bountiful Harvest and meet CFSA member farmers to hear their concerns about agriculture. The Sikes generously welcomed us all into their home and Kelly Sikes shared some delicious dishes prepared with free-range poultry raised on the farm. The fried chicken biscuit was a big hit!
Carson Sikes, their 14-year-old son told us about his love for the farm and how he raised a flock of 1,000 birds nearly all on his own. Carson is destined to be a master poultry farmer. The Sikes homeschool their children, and their other daughters, Mekalay and Carrie, are happy to help with the farm as well. Mekalay even helped to design the farm’s website with Kelly.
Congressman Hudson listened with interest to the seven farmers who attended and heard about the challenges facing family grass-fed beef farmers, sustainable pork operations, concerns around GMO-free grain and the general trend of corporate control edging out family farming. The Congressman shared his concerns about the short comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which has since been extended.
We were also happy that NC Senator Gene McLaurin (25th District) and NC Representative Mark Brody (55th District) were both able to attend the meeting. Both the Senator and the Representative had attended the CFSA Legislative Breakfast earlier that morning. We appreciated their passion and their eagerness to learn more about organics and the challenges to local food systems.
At the end of the meeting, I realized that something truly great had happened. I had just witnessed a homegrown meeting in a farmhouse full of honest, hardworking people who were voicing their concerns about the future of farming and the future of their families to our elected officials; officials who actually have the power to make the necessary policy changes to support these farms. It was a powerful feeling. Attendees appreciated that Congressman Hudson, NC Senator McLaurin and NC Representative Brody were all there to listen to their concerns and CFSA would like to thank them all for attending.
I pulled out of the driveway at Bountiful Harvest feeling encouraged. Encouraged by seeing folks come together, encouraged by elected officials honestly listening to the concerns of their constituents and hopeful that Congressman Hudson will remember these conversations and share these stories with his colleagues in Washington, D.C. when he’s working on the Farm Bill this coming year.
Many thanks to Congressman Hudson for meeting with us and many thanks to the Sikes family for inviting us into your home!
Do you eat local whenever you can? Are you restaurateur or chef who sources products from local farms? Then you should care about the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. Here’s why: the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has funneled over $83 million into over 600 small farms and food businesses in 98 North Carolina counties since 2001 and the General Assembly is considering eliminating it even though it doesn’t depend on taxpayer dollars. Farmers and food business owners have been speaking out loudly in support of the program, and they need all of our help to convince the General Assembly not to eliminate it.
Have you ever wondered why our urban areas—the Triangle, Triad, greater Asheville and the metro Charlotte area—have such booming local food scenes? Why does North Carolina have such an outstanding national reputation as a leader in supporting local food producers? Well, part of the reason is North Carolina’s strong heritage of small family farms, another factor is the creativity and business acumen of farmers and chefs and retailers forming new alliances to serve their customers’ desires, but the rest of the story is the funding support from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has strategically invested in innovative farm enterprises throughout the state. The vast majority of these investments have come in grants of $10,000 or less!
Have you heard of these businesses? Each of them can credit the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission as an essential part of their success. Where would our local food scene be without them?
• Eastern Carolina Organics
• Farmhand Foods (don’t forget their Sausage Wagon)
• The Harvest Moon Grille (both the food cart and the restaurant at the Dunhill)
• New River Organic Growers
• Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center
Check out this handy spreadsheet that shows over 600 projects. You can search it to see if any of the farmers you know are on the list. If they aren’t yet, let’s make sure this program is around so they can take advantage of it in the future.
So, if you’re a locavore—an eater, a chef or a restaurant owner, or food retailer—and you want to continue to have more local food options available, you need to contact your Senator today and add your voice to the voices of the farmers who are fighting for this vital program. If we want our farmers to continue growing the food we love, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best tools available to innovate and grow their farms.
See CFSA’s action alert or the Rural Advancement Foundation’s action alert for more information about contacting your legislators.
If you have questions about this important issue and would like to discuss how to show your support, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: As you know, we try to keep this blog on the positive side, because let’s face it, there’s so much negativity out there regarding our predominant food system right now that we could easily get sucked into it if we’re not careful. But GMOs are becoming such an increasingly real threat to the future of organic farming and beyond that we’ve decided to take a brief stroll to the dark side, since there really is no greater weapon against this alarming trend than knowledge. We hope the following two posts will do just that. (And then we will return to our regularly scheduled dose of inspiration!)
by Cricket Rakita
CFSA Saving Our Seed Project Coordinator
GMO crops today are very common. It seems like every few months, some government regulator approves a new type of GMO product for use in the food stream. But what are GMOs really, and why should we really be concerned about them?
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” To genetically modify an organism, a technician will, through artificial means, insert a gene from one species into a complete other species. When one imagines this for the first time, one imagines a clean process whereby a scientist cuts a chromosome, inserts a gene, and then lets the plant grow naturally. This is actually very far from the truth.
The first stage in genetically modifying an organism is to pick your gene to insert. For example, the most common GMO gene, the roundup ready gene, was found at a Monsanto plant. They noticed that in their roundup sludge behind the plant, there was a bacteria strain growing where they thought nothing could grow. It turned out that this bacteria had a gene that allowed it to live in the toxic mess. They isolated this gene and have since inserted it into corn, canola, alfalfa, soybeans, beets, and a few other crops. To do this insert, they took segments of genes that they believed contained the GMO gene (there are a few extras that came with it as genes are very small and hard to separate), attached them to tiny slivers of gold, and shot them at healthy cells in a petri dish. Also attached to the gold were an antibiotic “marker” gene and a cauliflower mosaic virus (CMV). The healthy cells are then sprayed with an antibiotic to test weather or not they actually picked up the genes through the random bombardment. Everything that lives is grown to a mature state and sprayed with roundup. Then, these are used to produce a seed crop.
You may be wondering, why the CMV? Genes are very tricky; they are not always expressing themselves. Think of your eye color; every cell in your body has the gene that expresses your eye color, but it only expresses itself in your iris. I can look at your fingernails all day and I will have no clue what your eye color is, even though the gene is there. CMV is what is known as a promoter. When it latches onto a gene, it makes that gene express itself everywhere, all the time.
This is especially important in the bT gene. bT is a common bacteria born disease that causes insects in their larval state to fail to digest properly, leading to death. It has been used by organic farmers for many years. It has been applied in a way that does not persist in the environment; a few days after it is sprayed, it will be gone. However, when the bT gene is inserted into a plant with the CMV, it is in every cell of that plant, root to seed, expressing itself all the time, at least as long as it is fresh, and possibly well beyond that. Dr. Arpad Pusztai did a study on rats and bT potatoes and determined that the bT potatoes caused low organ weights, unexplained death, and what appeared to be pre-cancerous states. Funding for his studies was then pulled.
In fact, GMOs are generally not independently tested for safety in the food supply. This is because of the work of then vice president Dan Quayle. He chaired a committee which determined that GMOs are “substantially equivalent” to the crops they were modified from, and therefore no extensive independent safety testing should be required. To this day, all required tests pertaining to the safety of GMO crops are conducted by the entity seeking approval to produce the crop. There is no standard test, and if they conduct a test and do not like the results, they are under no obligation to share them; they can just run a less rigorous test and share those results.
In the past, there has been a legal assumption that if a person owns an organism, they are responsible for what that organism does. For example, let’s say I buy a cow. If my cow breaks down my fence and tramples into your yard, destroying your garden, it is my fault and I can be held liable. This is not the case with GMOs. In fact, if I purchase GMO seeds and plant them, I do not own them; the company holding the patent to the gene does, and I just have the right to plant them one time. If the pollen carries from those plants to your yard and pollinates your plants, the company that owns the patent to the gene then owns your plants as well, and if you save the seeds from them, you are liable. Moreover, it does not matter if those genes got onto your farm by seeds flying off a truck, wind born pollen, etc; if they contaminate your crop, you no longer own it, and if you get caught trying to sell it, you can lose your farm in legal fees.
GMOs often seem to come with unintended consequences. I believe this is a function of the imprecise method by which they are produced. For example, Dr. Joy Bergelson of the University of Chicago found that pollen from GMO canola is 20 times more virulent than the normal canola pollen. Also, GMO L. Tryptophan (a dietary supplement) and Starling Corn were both found to produce proteins that cause life threatening reactions in people. Again, due to “substantial equivalence,” it is difficult to find good data on whether the GMOs on the market today are safe, but it was noticed in Great Britain that with the introduction of GMO soybeans, soybean allergies increased by 50%. RBGH milk causes cows to become sickly, requiring large quantities of antibiotics to be pumped into the animals. When RBGH milk was introduced, the allowable residual levels of antibiotics in milk was increased by 100 fold.
There are a lot of GMO products currently on the market, including milk, corn, soybeans, canola, plum, cotton (including cottonseed oil), beet, and others. Alfalfa may be on the market in the next year. For a full list of currently available GMOs and pending applications, see http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/not_reg.html. Also, note that a GMO salmon (that grows much bigger than the natural salmon) and apple (that will not turn brown when cut) are currently under development. If you buy conventional processed products that contain these ingredients, you are probably buying GMO foods. If you buy conventional animal products, they were almost definitely raised on GMO grains, though interestingly enough, anytime you give animals a choice between GMO crops and non-GMO crops, they will choose the non-GMO. For this reason, GMO crops have less mammalian pest problems in the field (deer, etc).
GMO pollen has also been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees; see http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,473166,00.html.
There has also been a long and protracted legal fight over GMO beets. These are not the type of red beets that you eat on the side of your black eyed peas (though they will cross pollinate with them); these are bred for sugar production. You may notice a lot of products advertising “Natural Sugar” instead of corn syrup. These are made from GMO beets.
Currently, we are in the process of determining if GMO salmon should be introduced into the wild. These salmon grow over twice the rate of natural salmon. But if you’re worried about these salmon getting into the wild population, never fear—there’s a plan for that, too! It just so happens that the female GMO salmon are sterile, so to prevent cross breeding, the plan is that males will be discarded at birth at the hatchery and only the females will be let out. Unfortunately, as anybody that has spent the day sorting tiny things into 2 bins can tell you, every now and again, a male will get into the female stream. I predict the effect on the wild salmon population will be devastating. To oppose this introduction, see the Center for Food Safety’s website, http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/ There are also action steps you can take there to oppose the introduction of GMO Alfalfa and an appeal of the Beet approval.
In my opinion, GMOs have the potential to be the most insidious type of pollution ever know to mankind, as every other type of pollution that has ever been developed will eventually dissipate. GMOs, on the other hand, will naturally increase themselves, like the classic Von Nuemann machines of science fiction. I urge you to frequently check with the Center for Food Safety to see what action you can take to oppose the spread of these franken-foods on our planet.
by Linda Watson
Bill H446 would require labeling genetically modified food and milk from cows subjected to recombinant bovine growth hormone. As the bill says, we don’t know enough about the long-term environmental and health impacts of these new technologies. While I’d rather have the U.S. ban use of rBGH as Europe, Canada, Japan, and Australia have, until then people should be given the opportunity to avoid tainted food. As Wikipedia says, “The United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone.”
Here’s where you can find the bill’s current status. Representative Bradley, who is the vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee, is the primary sponsor and Reps. Pricey Harrison and Bill Faison are co-sponsors. Here’s where to find other members of the House Agriculture Committee. I’ve already written to my excellent Representative, Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake).
What do you sustainable dairy farmers think about this bill? Is it good as is or does it need tuning so it protects consumers with a minimal impact on your operations?
Here are some talking points if you want to contact your legislators about this bill:
People overwhelmingly want genetically engineered food labels so they have a choice. An MSNBC poll this year shows that 96% want genetically modified food labeled so people can make informed choices. A Deloitte survey in 2010 found that 70% of Americans are concerned about eating genetically modified food.
Scandalously, scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops, so the real dangers may be worse than we have been led to believe. Scientific American says “that restriction must end.”
On a related note, I had an excellent meeting with Congressman Brad Miller about funding unbiased research and Roundup Ready alfalfa last week. See my blog for details.
For those of you out there who are still trying to figure out exactly what it is we do here at CFSA, here’s a little snippet for you. On Friday, Feb 18, Shivaugn (our wonderful Sustainable Food NC Coalition Coordinator) spoke on a panel at the Piedmont Come to the Table Conference where she talked about local food and farm policy at the state and local levels. She asked me to share with you a few pointers that came out of the conference on how you—yes, you!—can have a positive impact on food and farm policy in NC. You don’t have to be a politician (would you want to be?); you just have to care about the continued well-being of the state we all know and love. – Your Faithful Blogger, Sarah
Reconnect with the source of your food. Spend your food dollars on products that support your community and the local food system wherever possible and practical. Buy from a local farmer, or an independent grocer or cooperative, or dine out at an independently owned restaurant that shares these values.
Get involved! Your time and creativity is the biggest gift you can give to the local food movement. Volunteer to start a local food policy council, participate in a community garden, attend events that promote agriculture, join an organization that works to support farmers.
Talk about your choices, interests and values with your friends and colleagues. We all eat; our actions and our words make us all the ambassadors for the local food movement. We all have an individual responsibility to promote a system that can and will maintain our agricultural heritage while creating community self-reliance and improving food security.
Meet your local elected officials; thank them for serving their community. Let them know what you think and why you value local agriculture. Offer to be a resource and provide information to assist your elected officials in his or her decision-making. Your stories matter.
Places to Find Information about Organizations involved in State and Local Food and Farm Policy
- NC Local Sustainable Food Advisory Council www.ncagr.gov/localfood
- NC General Assembly www.ncga.state.nc.us *Note calendars for House Agriculture Committee & Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environment Committee, and Appropriations Committees
- NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services www.ncagr.gov
- NC Cooperative Extension, Local Food Program www.ces.ncsu.edu/index.php?page=localfoods
- (Enhanced) Voluntary Agriculture District Boards www.ncadfp.org/documents/VADBro.pdf
Nonprofits & Associations
- Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project www.asapconnections.org
- Carolina Farm Stewardship Association www.carolinafarmstewards.org
- Center for Environmental Farming Systems www.cefs.ncsu.edu
- Feast on the Southeast www.feastsoutheastnc.org
- Rural Advancement Foundation International www.rafiusa.org
- Budget Priorities for the organizations that support local-scale agriculture
- Agricultural Research Stations
- State Institutional Purchasing Preference
- Continuation of the NC Local Sustainable Food Policy Council
- County Farmland Protection Plans
- Expanding VADs and EVADs across the state
- Establishing local food policy councils (e.g., Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council)
- Reorienting county economic development offices toward ag-related businesses (e.g., Polk Co.)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 10, 2011
Contact: Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
email@example.com | 919.542.2402
“Balanced Budget” bill will limit jobs growth in rural North Carolina
Raleigh, NC – Today the NC House is expected to pass SB 13, the “Balanced Budget Act of 2011.” The bill takes money from the current year’s balanced budget in order to offset the looming budget hole faced by the NC Legislature for 2011-12, authorizing the Governor to make $400M in cuts. Ironically, the bill will drain another $87M away from a handful of the state’s trust funds aimed at economic development.
“Our message to the General Assembly is this: don’t cut funds that are creating jobs and strengthening our state’s economy” says Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association executive director.
What is at stake in rural North Carolina: the continued investment in projects that foster innovation and create jobs while building local food systems. Some examples of the types of successful projects that would not exist without this funding are:
Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center
Carolina Ground Bread Flour Project
Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Eastern Carolina Organics
Foothills Farmer Fresh Market
Eastern Carolina Organics is a private, manager- and grower-owned distributor in Chatham County that connects North Carolina’s organic farmers with the restaurants and grocers who want to buy from them. It all got started with a $48,000 grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund in 2004.
“Without the Tobacco Trust Fund, none of this would exist,” says Sandi Kronick, ECO’s CEO. In 2010, ECO sold over $2 million in products to local customers and buyers throughout the East Coast and in Canada, sending $1.6 million back to NC organic family farms in just one year.
For instance, in 2010 alone, RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund received 403 applications requesting over $4.5 million. Of those, RAFI-USA was able to fund 120 new projects with $1.2 million in grants from the Tobacco Trust Fund. That investment along with the cost share from participating farmers totaled $5.9 million in new investment, created $5.25 million in new annual income for farmers and created and retained 1091 jobs as a result. 12,600 other farmers benefited from the funded projects, and approximately 330 unfunded farmers replicated a funded project.
The proposal would drain the unused balance of key trust funds used for job development in rural North Carolina: The Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the Tobacco Trust Fund. It would also divert $67 million in tobacco settlement funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation to be used by legislators in the state’s General Fund.
The Golden Leaf Foundation, the Tobacco Trust Fund, and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund have been actively investing in local food to help farmers and rural communities maintain and regain vitality. Between 2000 and 2009, these trust funds have invested $36.6 million into local, regional, and statewide value-added agriculture enterprises and programs. These awards have also been leveraged to attract federal and private funding to support these and other projects.
The Golden Leaf Foundation has awarded $21 million in grants for 157 agriculture and food enterprise development programs since 2000.1
The Tobacco Trust Fund has awarded $12.9 million to value-added ag enterprises since 2002.2
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has made $2.7 million in grants through the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.3
For more specifics about the projects listed above, contact:
Jennifer Lapidus, Carolina Ground Bread Flour Project
Mary Lou Surgi, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, (828) 348-0128
Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, (919) 542-2402
Noah Ranells, Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center, (919) 245-2330
Sandi Kronick, Eastern Carolina Organics, (919) 542-3264
Mike Faucette, Faucette Farms, Browns Summit, (336) 669-5262
Herbie Cottle, Cottles Organics, Rose Hill, (910) 289-5034
Stefan Hartmann, Black River Organic Farm, Ivanhoe, (910) 540-8600
Stanley Hughes, Pine Knot Farm, Hurdle Mills, (919) 880-5979
Joe Schroeder, Program Director, Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund RAFI-USA, (919) 542-1396
Timothy Will, Foothills Connect, (828) 447-2660
CFSA is a member of Sustainable Food NC,a coalition of organizations committed to advocating for state-level policies that foster sustainable and organic food production, enhance local economic development, support community health and increase access to local food throughout North Carolina. For more information, contact Shivaugn Rayl, Coalition Coordinator, at 919.576.9173.
1 The Golden LEAF Foundation, www.goldenleaf.org/searchgrants.php.
The two-year story of a proposed dramatic overhaul of America’s food safety regime is winding to a close, perhaps with a whimper instead of a bang.
After midnight this morning, Congress adjourned for the November elections without passing legislation to increase the authority of the FDA over 70 percent of our food supply. That legislative proposal was once a slam-dunk—the House version of the bill, HR.2749, passed by an overwhelming vote of Democrats and Republicans more than a year ago. But in the Senate, action on the Food Safety Modernization Act, S.510, has ground to a halt.
I am proud to say that, like never before, the sustainable food movement has had a major, positive impact during the entire year and a half of deliberations over S.510. If S.510 does manage to become law, it will be because the bill provides strong protections for local and organic food producers. The Senate staff who heard from you, who studied the issues, who sought input from sustainable agriculture organizations like Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, have worked to meet our concerns. Those of us, in the Carolinas and across the nation, who believe in a healthy, local, organic food culture showed we are numerous, articulate, credible, and a force to be reckoned with.
CFSA’s Campaign for Truly Safe food has involved
· more than 20 farmers market action days,
· publishing our exclusive report on the economic impact of the bills on the local food economy,
· grassroots call-in drives,
· farmer visits to Washington,
· providing regular data directly to Senate bill-writers.
Our work, all of us playing a role together, made both NC Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan into strong advocates on this bill for small farms, food entrepreneurs, farmers markets and organic ag. This was vital to the national effort because both serve on the committee in charge of the bill. Hagan has backed the proposal of Montana Senator and organic farmer John Tester to exclude farms and food businesses with less than $500,000 in annual sales that serve local markets from any new FDA food regulation powers. Burr, an original co-sponsor of S.510, has insisted that the Senate leadership agree to Tester’s proposal. We thank them both for their excellent work thus far.
Every issue we’ve fought for—small business protections, organic farming protections, educational programs, animal and environmental concerns—has been addressed in the final compromise bill. Winning these protections, if the bill actually does come up for a vote, will be new proof of how important our movement has become.
Dozens of groups of people like you from across the country made this happen. CFSA worked with organizations like the Healthy Food Coalition, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Florida Organic Growers, the Rural Advancement Foundation-International, the California Alliance for Family Farms and others to activate our collective might and make a difference in federal policy. Over 150 businesses co-ops and advocacy organizations signed on to a letter in support of the Tester-Hagan Amendment, including 14 from the Carolinas. Stopping the imposition of industrial-scale “safety” regulation on local food systems will be an accomplishment for us all to take pride in.
I say ‘will be’—as of this moment, nothing is absolutely certain about what Congress will do this year. The Senate Majority leader, Nevada’s Harry Reid, filed for cloture on the bill before this morning’s adjournment. That means that he thinks there’s at least 60 votes in favor of the bill, and that he might force a vote in this Congress’ lame duck session after the election. If S.510 doesn’t pass before the 2011 Congress convenes, the House bill goes away and it’s up to next year’s House and Senate leadership to decide if they want to make a run at this again. No victory laps yet. Whatever the outcome on S.510, this bill is just one battle in a struggle that has been boiling since the 2006 E.coli spinach scare, and that will continue to be hot for the years, even decades to come.
The takeaway for me is that we must keep organizing and build on our success. This is still a defensive battle to prevent new bad things from happening. The next horizon is to actually overcome existing bad things and make positive change, in terms of food safety and across all of agriculture. That’s why I’m a CFSA member, because I want to reach that next plateau of making more good happen for more people through local, organic food. If you’re not already a CFSA member, I welcome you to join us in the climb.
After months of work behind the scenes and strong grassroots pressure, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight for sensible protections for local food systems in new federal food safety law. And it’s not a train. CFSA has been out front on this issue for more than a year, and that work is bearing fruit.
The Status of the Legislation
Negotiations are still ongoing, but so far sustainable agriculture has won agreements from the bill managers that:
1. FDA will be able to exempt low-risk farms and food businesses from the onerous paperwork burdens and compliance costs imposed on high-risk operations. In other words, FDA will have to prove that local food producers are a food safety risk before dictating food safety practices for them.
2. FDA will have to actively minimize compliance burdens for small farms and businesses. In other words, it will not be able to impose regulations that local food producers cannot afford.
3. Any FDA safety standards for growing produce must be compatible with the National Organic Program and USDA resource conservation programs. In other words, FDA will not be able to prohibit organic practices such as manure-based fertilizers and vegetative buffers around production fields.
4. FDA will have to prove the actual risk of pathogen transfer from wild animals and livestock to produce crops before regulating animal controls on farms. In other words, diversified farms will be protected, working dogs will be protected, and no farm will have to put walls and ceilings around their fields to keep out wildlife.
5. FDA and USDA will establish and fund a food safety training program for small farms and businesses. In other words, producers will have access to the latest scientific evidence on best management practices to take care of their customers.
Additionally, we are pushing for a provision on food traceability that would exclude products directly marketed by farms and products where the identity of the farm that grew a food product is preserved all the way to the end consumer (farm-identity preserved products). This issue is still being negotiated as I write.
Together We’ve Made a Difference
These are important victories, and Carolina farmers have helped us get this far. NC Senator Richard Burr’s staff has been actively involved in re-writing the bill, and I met with those staffers last week, along with NC farmers John Vollmer and Chris Hardin. We shared information about how healthy local food systems are providing jobs, increasing farm incomes, saving farms, and providing nutritious, safe food for Carolina consumers. CFSA’s Campaign for Truly Safe Food has organized grassroots action on S.510 at more than 20 farmers markets across the state. Thousands of citizens have contacted Senators Burr and Hagan to demand they protect local organic food from bad regulations.
All this information has helped convince Sen. Burr to fight for the improvements listed above. We are grateful for this support, and encourage you to thank Sen. Burr’s staff for working on behalf of sustainable agriculture. We’re also grateful for the efforts of Senators Bernie Sanders (VT), Michael Bennet (CO), Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Barbara Boxer (CA) to champion these changes.
Call’s to Sen. Hagan’s office are still needed to encourage her support for these changes. Her staff have not fully understood the potential negative impacts on small farms and local food from the original version of S.510.
CFSA also supports Sen. John Tester’s Amendment to S.510, which would exclude farms and food businesses with revenues below $500,000 from the new produce standards and preventive controls in the bill. These entities would continue to be regulated under existing local, state and federal law. We are hopeful the amendment will succeed in a floor vote, as it will provide insurance against one-size-fits-all rules.
What’s Next in Washington
It now looks like the bill might come up for a vote as early as next week, or it may be pushed back another week or two—the Senate has decided to fight over Wall Street reform next week, which may delay them from moving to the bipartisan issue of food safety. Any delay gives an opening to those who oppose our commonsense reforms:
- Rep. Rosa DeLauro yesterday complained at an Organic Trade Association meeting that the Senate is “watering down” the bill, even though she has not apparently read the new language.
- Consumer groups, who have intransigently opposed accommodations for small food producers in their push for tough regulation, have made a big ad buy in the Charlotte area promoting S.510. I’ll be posting to this blog later on the top mistakes, misstatements and misdirections in the consumer group campaign to prevent pro-local food amendments to S.510.
- Big agribusiness lobbyists like David Acheson, who, while head of FDA under the Bush Administration called for “zero tolerance” of pathogens in all foods, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are insisting that all producers meet the same standards, regardless of size, market, or risk. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/04/farmers-make-gains-in-senate-battle/
So this campaign is not over, and we all must stay engaged.
Heroes in the Fight
I want to single out Chris Hardin, John Vollmer, Harry Hamil and Debbie Hamrick for thanks for their work on this issue.
· Chris wrote an excellent opinion documenting the compliance costs of S.510 for a small producer (it’s in Appendix II of CFSA’s report “Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest: The Unintended Consequences of Federal Food Safety Legislation on North Carolina’s Small Agricultural Enterprises”, on our website here).
· John’s voice as a past-President-of-the-NC-Tobacco-Growers-Association-turned-organic-farmer carried tremendous weight with Senate staff.
· Harry’s research and advocacy have exposed the dangers of S.510 to thousands of influence-makers across the country.
· Debbie’s tireless criss-crossing of North Carolina to solicit small farmers’ views on reasonable food safety practices has provided crucial data for regulators.
Work Left to Do
Here’s what still needs to be done:
1. Keep up the pressure on the Senate. Call NC Senators Burr and Hagan, and SC Senators DeMint and Graham to tell them you support the Sanders, Bennet, Boxer, Stabenow and Tester amendments to S.510. Thank Sen. Burr for supporting the Sanders, Bennet, Boxer and Stabenow amendments and for supporting local food producers on the traceability issue. Here are the phone numbers:
Sen. Burr (NC): (202) 224-3154 Sen. Hagan (NC): (202)-224-6342
Sen. DeMint (SC): (202) 224-6121 Sen. Graham (SC): (202) 224-5972
2. Call your U.S. House Representative to tell them that S.510 is far superior to HR.2749, the food safety bill the House passed last year. Ask them to support the Senate Bill in negotiations between the two chambers. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121, to be connected with your Representative’s office.
3. If you see articles and statements claiming that “special interests” are watering down the bill with “exemptions for small farms,” set the record straight. Make comments, blog, tweet, Facebook (is that a verb?)… whatever channels you use to connect with your community, help us get the healthy food story out there.
4. Share CFSA’s report, Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest, with media and decision makers in your community, to let them know how much is at stake in the fight for commonsense food safety rules.
As with the 2008 Farm Bill, the sustainable agriculture movement is elbowing its way to the table to protect and promote healthy food and farming for all. Your support is what makes these successes possible. Thank you.
4/30/10 UPDATE: Sen. Hagan has now endorsed the Tester proposals! Thanks to Sen. Hagan for stepping up on this important issue, despite the complaints of Big Ag.
CFSA is publishing today a new report, “Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest,” that looks at the negative impacts that one-size-fits-all food safety legislation will have on healthy local food in North Carolina. Among our findings:
Fueled by overwhelming consumer demand for healthy, local food, North Carolina has experienced significant growth in small-scale value-added agriculture over the last decade. The state has made this sector an economic development priority, and through its tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds and other programs, North Carolina has invested at least $42 million since 2000 in local food and value-added agriculture.
S.510, The Food Safety Modernization Act, clearly increases FDA authority over small-scale value-added agriculture businesses. The potential impact of that oversight may be considerable, even though small businesses are not the source of the vast majority of illnesses that S.510 targets:
1. Costs to comply for North Carolina small businesses could exceed 150 hours in labor and as much as $20,000 in consulting and testing expenses per year. These and other costs for complying with one-size-fits-all food safety rules could force many small farms and food businesses to abandon value-added markets.
2. Farms that do some food processing on the farm contribute almost 8,500 full-time and seasonal jobs to NC’s economy. FDA regulation of these entities will result in lost jobs and continued losses of farmland.
3. NC has seven government-supported shared-used food processing facilities in operation or development that will lose most or all of their clients under new FDA regulations. These facilities create millions of dollars in sales of NC-grown agricultural products—$3 million-worth of annual sales in Asheville alone.
To avoid this outcome for NC agriculture and rural communities, it is vital for the legislation to include sensible protections for these small value-added businesses. Those protections must include: (a) requirements for FDA to develop safety-related rules specifically tailored to small farms and food businesses that reflect the lower risk profiles of those operations; (b) creation of a USDA training program for those lower risk businesses to enhance their capacity to protect customers.
During April the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Campaign for Truly Safe Food is mobilizing customers at farmers markets across the state to ask for their support of commonsense protections for local farms and food producers. For more information on the threat to local food from federal food safety legislation and the changes to S.510 that the Association supports, visit www.carolinafarmstewards.org, or find us on Facebook.