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Legislation for Greater Agribusiness Empowerment


By Stephen Lendman - Posted on 31 August 2010

Legislation for Greater Agribusiness Empowerment - by Stephen Lendman

On July 29, 2009, the House passed HR 2749: Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 "To amend the (1938 as amended) Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the safety of food in the global market, and for other purposes."

An earlier July 2009 article discussed it, accessed through the following link:

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2009/07/hr-2749-agribusiness-empowering-ac...

On March 3, 2009, S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was introduced as the Senate's version of the House bill. On December 18, 2009, it cleared committee and was placed on the Senate's Legislative Calendar for consideration. Thus far not addressed, it likely will be and passed in the wake of the egg salmonella scare though, like its companion bill, it's for agribusiness empowerment, not food safety, used as cover to enhance greater industry consolidation at the expense of small farmers and consumers.

Current laws and regulations are adequate but not enforced, with good reason. Run by industry officials, the USDA is woefully understaffed, under-budgeted, and only performs perfunctory inspections. The FDA operates the same way, fronting for agribusiness, Big Pharma, and related industries, not consumer protection.

If House and Senate bills pass, it will gain new powers and fewer judicial restraints on its actions. Although some provisions address improving America's food, the bills' vague and deceptive language increases the potential for inappropriate application and enforcement, harming small farmers and consumers for big business, what's vital to avoid but less likely given the egg recall.

Now there's a push for corporate friendly legislation masquerading as pro-consumer, the way Congress always works. So expect the worst, for sure what Obama supports, stiff-arming his constituents across the board in deference to corporate and power interests.

According to the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, S. 510:

"will have the unintended destructive consequence of eliminating small farms and consumer access to local food (because it) grants sweeping powers to the (FDA) and US Dairy Association, (imposes harmful new regulations, and lets federal) agents go on to (small) farms, where less than one half of one percent of food-borne illnesses originate, (nearly all of it from factory farms) without having credible evidence that a problem exists, needing only 'reason to believe' in order to quarantine or shut down a farm."

PPJ Gazette writer Marti Oakley calls the Senate bill (and by inference the House one) the "Making America Sick Through Adulteration of Food" act, saying the nation "is only as successful as its farmers and ranchers" able to feed the public at all times. "And by farmers and ranchers I don't mean industrialized corporate farming for massive profits while we defile everything in sight," including safe food because FDA and USDA officials front for business, not consumers, on their own without protection.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on Food Safety and Congressional Legislation Not Designed to Protect It

FTCLDF (the Fund) represents family farmers' right "to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers," and their right to buy them from family farms. It also protects small farms "from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and on-farm food processing."

The Fund opposes the House and Senate bills, saying they threaten "to leave small farmers and local producers unable to afford the cost of complying with legislative requirements." In addition, the FDA will be more greatly empowered to help agribusiness and harm local farming and consumers. Besides, "neither bill would improve food safety" because that's not their purpose.

Their anti-consumer provisions will empower bigness, increase imported food, create new safety concerns, and restrict the ability of Americans to get food choices they want from sources they prefer.

Unmentioned in the House bill, S. 510 references the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 22 times, especially in Section 108(a)(1), calling for the Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture secretaries to coordinate with HHS to prepare and submit to Congress the "National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy."

Sounding more like preparing for war than food safety, Section 108(5) requires the strategy be consistent with the National Incident Management System, the National Response Framework, the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, and the National Preparedness Goals - programs created by presidential Executive Orders and National Security Directives, (not acts of Congress) to help big, not small farmers or consumers.

For example, over "terrorism" hysteria, the 2004 Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 9 designated DHS "responsible for coordinating the overall national effort" to protect America's food system, its Secretary "the principal federal official to lead, integrate, and coordinate federal, state, local and private sector elements."

Of concern is HHS' role in "food defense and critical infrastructure protection." In 2007, its Office of Inspector General suggested why, based solely on three minor incidents, including:

-- in 1984, an Oregon religious cult poisoning 10 salad bars causing 751 illnesses;

-- in 1996, a Texas hospital employee tainting the facility's snacks causing 12 illnesses; and

-- in 2003, a Michigan supermarket employee infecting 200 pounds of beef causing 92 illnesses, hardly reasons to wage war on bad food and call out the Marines.

Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional food contamination (raising no eyebrows) cause 76 million food-related illnesses annually.

In addition, the 2007 OIG report explained that:

-- DHS consolidated 22 preexisting agencies and organizations, all unrelated to food;

-- the sector's size and complexity poses vexing challenges, compounded by new DHS food sector obligations compromised by incompatible internal documents;

-- the agency has "no major organizational entity (focused) exclusively or even largely" on food;

-- no DHS official has overall food responsibility; and

-- other inconsistencies in its new mandate, assuring snafus doing more harm than good.

"A more effective way to protect our food supply is to create" more localized diversity nationwide, not greater concentration and a war against food terrorists.

Yet passing legislation with Section 108 "would be a major step toward" putting the nation's food system "on a permanent crisis-mode footing." Instead of federalizing supply and enhancing agribusiness power, our best food defense "is to promote the decentralization of food production, encouraging local communities" to be as self-sustaining as possible.

In other words, promote small and local, not big and global, a sure formula for higher prices, less variety, weaker consumer protections, and greater likelihood for tainted products because industry officials run the FDA and USDA before recycling back into high-paying corporate jobs. In both capacities, their job is maximizing profits, not food safety.

The Movement of Food

Information from the above-referenced link details concerns with HR 2749, including:

Establishing enforcement authority under Section 133 to restrict the movement of food, giving unelected officials power to shut down food movement in a state by quarantine without court order.

Criminal and Civil Penalties

Under Sections 134 and 135, criminal or civil penalties are imposed against anyone alleged to knowingly introduce or deliver adulterated or misbranded food through interstate commerce, the penalty being 10 years in prison.

Under current law, it's one year or three in cases of willfully defrauding or misleading. Civil penalties are also stiffer, as high as $7,500,000 (up from a maximum $250,000) for a corporate offender (including small ones), each day in violation considered a separate offense. Even delays in complying with registration requirements carry substantial fines.

As a result, these provisions let the FDA "harass and bankrupt small farmers and local producers" to help large ones, the reason for their inclusion, corporate lawyers, of course, writing these bills, the same procedure for all congressional legislation, including healthcare and financial reform, to protect their bottom-line concerns.

HACCP Plans

HR 2749, Section 102 and S. 510, Section 103 require registered facilities to have written Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans, prepared by:

-- conducting a hazard analysis;

-- identifying, implementing, and monitoring effective preventive controls;

-- instituting corrective actions if needed;

-- providing verification;

-- maintaining proper records; and

-- reanalyzing for hazards as needed.

Evaluating HACCP based on past meat industry experiences shows that corporate slaughterhouses and processing plants "operate in the relative absence of USDA inspections," in many cases none at all or personnel occasionally showing up but not doing their job.

Yet, the USDA's Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) web site states that "Slaughter facilities cannot operate if FSIS inspection personnel are not present (and) Only Federally inspected establishments can produce products that are destined to enter commerce."

In contrast, small plants are harassed, burdened with extra paper work, and targeted with more enforcement actions - many, as a result, driven out of business; from 2000 - 2005 alone, a 21.9% decline in processing plants and 19% for slaughterhouses.

Food Traceability

Under HR 2749, Section 107, the HHS Secretary is mandated to establish a domestic and imported food tracing system, using "identif(ied) technologies and methodologies" burdensome to small producers. It's to let the Secretary "identify each person who grows, produces, manufactures, processes, packs, transports, holds or sell such food" in the shortest practicable time but "no longer than two business days."

Exempted is food produced on owner, operator or agent in charge farms, selling directly to consumers, restaurants or stores. Records must still be kept at least six months, and farmers selling to other ones or wholesalers are subject to traceability requirements.

The provision is about "further integrating the American food system into the global market" to help agribusiness and harm small competitors. Instead of greater globalization, US policy should promote local self-sufficiency, a notion not in Congress' or regulatory agencies' vocabulary in deference to the corporate interests they serve.

The FDA and USDA (like all federal agencies) don't "protect the health of the American people but rather" the profits of industry producers.

Produce Safety Standards

HR 2749, Section 104 and S. 510, Section 105 deal with standards for produce safety to minimize health risks, from growing to transporting and storing it. Even local roadside stands and farmers' markets would be subject to national safety standards, including record keeping, under FDA jurisdiction. Of concern is the cost burden on many, perhaps great enough shut them down, the whole idea behind these provisions.

Survey Results Reveal Other Problems

A 2008 Resource Conservation District of Monterey County, CA survey of 600 irrigated raw crop growers found 8% had their crops rejected for reasons including:

-- deer intrusion;

-- "potential frog habitat;"

-- the "presence of frogs and tadpoles in creek;"

-- planted crops "near trees needed a buffer of 100 to 150 feet;" and

-- "deer tracks near" one farmer's field.

Overall, so-called good agricultural practices (GAPs) are extremely burdensome to small producers, in many cases driving them out of business.

Codex Alimentarius (CA) Provision in S. 510

An earlier article explained Codex's threat, accessed through the following link:

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2009/08/codex-alimentarius-threatens-human...

Ostensibly created "to develop food standards, guidelines" and related "codes of practice," CA, under
World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, is corporate controlled. It lets global food, pharmaceutical, and banking giants, in league with complicit UN and government agencies, promote GMO foods and drugs, not healthy natural ones. In addition, it will restrict or prohibit vitamin and dietary supplements, except ones they control. Also processed organic foods will be tainted by irradiation and harmful synthetic additives or ingredients.

If CA's standards and guidelines are adopted, binding one-size fits all global rules will be established, overriding sovereign national laws and safe practices. GMO foods and drugs will proliferate. Labeling will be banned. Food and drug giants will decide what will and won't be sold and at what price. Governments will have no power to countermand them, and everyone's health will be jeopardized.

S. 510, Section 306, covers the capacity of governments with respect to food. Its subsection (5) recommends bilateral and multilateral arrangements and agreements, a giant leap toward implementing CA, what's been ongoing incrementally for years, the Obama administration on board fast-tracking it.

On June 10, 2010, a White House press release announced "Executive Order - Establishing the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council," a stealth CA-endorsing measure about profits, not public welfare.

Under a de facto CA council, its "Section 6(g) contains specific plans to ensure that all prevention programs outside the Department of Health and Human Services are based on (industry-crafted) science-based guidelines (said to have been) developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under subsection (d) of this section."

In other words, all non-corporate controlled good health, disease-preventing products and supplements will be banned under full CA implementation, what's coming unless stopped, what S. 510 tries to legislate, what Barack Obama will sign into law if successful.

Final Comments

House and Senate bills "represent landmark legislation that will significantly increase the federal government's power to regulate intrastate commerce while hurting (America's) ability to produce safe food" and achieve local sustainability. Small farms and producers will be most harmed, the sector "producing the safest most nutritious food," thus benefitting agribusiness and importers, those most responsible for food safety problems.

Rather than declaring war on food terrorism, Congress should decentralize food production, processing and distribution, assuring safer, cheaper, lower priced products. Instead it's pushing the opposite.

Greater than ever FDA empowerment will be counterproductive and harmful, its record tainted by industry control, promoting hazardous to health GMO foods and unsafe industry practices like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), "the antithesis of food safety," by an agency destructive to small farmers, local producers and consumers.

Passing S. 510 and reconciling it with HR 2749 will jeopardize food safety and make it harder to buy products consumers want from sources they prefer. Defeating S. 510 is thus crucial, now at risk by the egg salmonella scare, a large hurtle essential to overcome.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.

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