HR 2749: Food Safety’s Scorched Earth Policy
Barbara H. Peterson
HR 2749 is being rushed through Congress, and the house may look to suspend the rules and fast track the bill at Obama’s request. Just what can we expect from this legislation? A lot more of the following:
Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.
He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.
“I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop,” he said. “On one field where a deer walked through, didn’t eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop.”
In the verdant farmland surrounding Monterey Bay, a national marine sanctuary and one of the world’s biological jewels, scorched-earth strategies are being imposed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens. And the scheme is about to go national. (Lochhead, C. )
The question that must be asked is, do we really want to destroy our local organic farming industry by poisoning ponds, bulldozing crops and killing wildlife all in the name of food safety?
Recently someone asked why I thought that the current food safety legislation would jeopardize organic farming. This is why! People who have no idea what it is to farm, and are in collusion with large corporate food producers, buyers, and sellers, draft legislation that is intolerable to the environment and our health, all in the name of food safety, in order to promote corporate profit.
Not one instance in “16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, has Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler had a case where it’s been linked to a farmers’ market” (Marler, B.). Yet, farmer’s markets and local organic food growers who sell at these markets are included in this legislation, and factory farming scorched earth methods are forced on them.
The Scorched Earth Policy
It is impossible to sanitize the earth. When slash and burn methods are used to supposedly control pathogens in our food supply, nature’s natural balance is destroyed, and with it our health. “Sanitizing American agriculture, aside from being impossible, is foolhardy,” said UC Berkeley food guru Michael Pollan. (Lochhead, C.)
Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare – spinach, peppers and now cookie dough – ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer – and anything that shelters them – are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria. (Lochhead, C.)
In fact, in the fierce battle to sanitize the earth, one thing has been overlooked:
Some science suggests that removing vegetation near field crops could make food less safe. Vegetation and wetlands are a landscape’s lungs and kidneys, filtering out not just fertilizers, sediments and pesticides, but also pathogens. UC Davis scientists found that vegetation buffers can remove as much as 98 percent of E. coli from surface water. UC Davis advisers warn that some rodents prefer cleared areas. (Lochhead, C.)
Food Safety Fraud Culprits
So who is behind this massive attack on our food supply? You guessed it – giant food retailers, agri-business, and anyone with a bankroll larger than the state of Texas. It seems that paying “more than $100 million in court settlements and verdicts in spinach and lettuce lawsuits” (Lochhead, C.) as well as realizing a loss in sales is galvanizing these corporate giants to lead the charge in instituting a “quasi-governmental program of new protocols for growing greens safely, called the “leafy greens marketing agreement.””
A proposal was submitted last month in Washington to take these rules nationwide.” (Lochhead, C.) And just what is this proposal? HR 2749 Food Safety Enhancement Act.
A food safety bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, passed this month in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It would give new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate all farms and produce in an attempt to fix the problem. The bill would require consideration of farm diversity and environmental rules, but would leave much to the FDA. (Lochhead, C.)
The requirements of this bill would put small farmers out of business entirely, but this is not the only threat to the little guy.
Large produce buyers have compiled secret “super metrics” that go much further. Farmers must follow them if they expect to sell their crops. These can include vast bare-dirt buffers, elimination of wildlife, and strict rules on water sources. To enforce these rules, retail buyers have sent forth armies of food-safety auditors, many of them trained in indoor processing plants, to inspect fields. (Lochhead, C.)
Most of these inspectors have little to no experience other than inside four walls. Take for example Ken Kimes, who owns New Natives Farms in Santa Cruz County. He was told that “no children younger than five can be allowed on his farm for fear of diapers” (Lochhead, C.)
Reaping the Consequences
It is this type of micro-management that our entire nation can look forward to if HR 2749 passes. These are rules no-one can comply with other than large factory operations. Not only do they conflict with common sense, but with organic and environmental standards as well. They are causing what they propose to eliminate, and that is, a dangerous, contaminated food supply controlled by no one but the biggest corporations.
And what can we expect to reap from this harvest? Higher prices due to increased costs to implement the measures and ship the food, nothing but factory-produced food that has travelled for miles to get on the shelf, increased pesticide use, the elimination of organic standards and the family farm, and the rape and desecration of nature itself.
The consequences of California’s draconian measures which are scheduled to go nationwide with the implementation of HR 2749 are already resulting in irreparable harm.
…trees have been bulldozed along the riparian corridors of the Salinas Valley, while poison-filled tubes targeting rodents dot lettuce fields. Dying rodents have led to deaths of owls and hawks that naturally control rodents. (Lochhead, C.)
The Fear Factor
Why is the public going along with this?
“It’s all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there,” said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.
Preliminary results released in April from a two-year study by the state wildlife agency, UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that less than one-half of 1 percent of 866 wild animals tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 in Central California.
Frogs are unrelated to E. coli, but their remains in bags of mechanically harvested greens are unsightly, Gordus said, so “the industry has been using food safety as a premise to eliminate frogs.”
Farmers are told that ponds used to recycle irrigation water are unsafe. So they bulldoze the ponds and pump more groundwater, opening more of the aquifer to saltwater intrusion, said Jill Wilson, an environmental scientist at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Luis Obispo.
Wilson said demands for 450-foot dirt buffers remove the agency’s chief means of preventing pollution from entering streams and rivers. Jovita Pajarillo, associate director of the water division in the San Francisco office of the Environmental Protection Agency, said removal of vegetative buffers threatens Arroyo Seco, one of the last remaining stretches of habitat for steelhead trout. (Lochhead, C.)
The Real Problem
The problem does not lie squarely in the lap of the farmer, where this legislation places it. It lies in the processing that happens after the produce leaves the farm. This legislation pronounces a death sentence on all small farmers, organic growers, and our nation’s very health as well, yet fails to address the real problem. “Industry rules won’t stop lawsuits or eliminate the risk of processed greens cut in fields, mingled in large baths, put in bags that must be chilled from packing plant to kitchen, and shipped thousands of miles away” (Marler, B).
Mass-production is the culprit, not my neighbor down the road who grows strawberries and sells them at the local farmer’s market. Yet the cause of the problem – mass-produced, industrialized food production methods are supported, while the innocent victims – family farmers, organic producers, and neighbors selling fruit at the local farmer’s market – are punished and quite literally put out of business.
©2009 Barbara H. Peterson
Lochhead, C. (2009). Crops, ponds destroyed in quest for food safety. SF Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/07/13/MN0218DVJ8.DTL
“I want to live my life in such a way that when I wake up in the morning and my feet hit the floor, satan shudders and says, oh shit, she’s awake!” (Maxine)
Barbara H. Peterson
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