Organic and Thrifty

My Letter Senator Merkley

Food Safety Bill: My Letter Senator Merkley

As you may or may not be aware, there is a Food Safety Bill that’s been going through Congress for the past year or so.  The Bill’s objective is to create tighter regulations for food safety in the US, which is an excellent idea given the almost weekly new “outbreaks” of contaminated food ranging from peanut butter to spinach.  Oddly enough, when you trace the food from table back to farm, you find that most of the food we buy from the supermarket changes hands often, resulting in many potential avenues for contamination.  It comes as no big surprise that these regulations will be stiff and costly, and only the “big Agribusiness” conglomerates will be able to afford them.  While many organic food companies and farms such as Cascadian and Stoneyfield are owned by large Agri-Corporations, (and thus will be able to absorb the costs of the regulations), the small farmers that operate through direct-marketing and CSAs will likely not be able to conform to the regulartions.

Here is an update from the Weston A. Price foundation, an amazing “watchdog” and protector of small farms who are producing food the “right” way (organic, biodynamic, pasture-raised, etc.):


Agribusiness shows its true colors!

Last week, the Senate voted 74-25 to move to consideration of S.510, the Food Safety Modernization Act.  After thirty hours of debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Senators released a final Managers Amendment that includes a compromise version of the Tester-Hagan amendment.  Thank you to all our members who have called and written over the last several months to help protect local foods!

But even though an agreement was reached on the Tester-Hagan amendment last week, the issue is still not over.  The final vote on the bill has been delayed until Monday, November 29, due to disagreements over amendments relating to the health care bill and a ban on earmarks.  And, in the meantime, Agribusiness has shown its true colors.

For over a year, the big Agribusiness trade organizations have supported passage of S.510.  From Agribusinesss perspective, the bill was a win-win: they could absorb the costs of the regulations because of their size; theyd gain good PR for supposedly improving food safety practices; and the competition created by local food producers, which is rapidly growing, would be crushed by the regulatory burdens.

This was only speculation until now.  But when the Senators agreed to include the Tester-Hagan amendment in the bill, to exempt small-scale direct-marketing producers from some of the most burdensome provisions, twenty Agribusiness trade organizations fired off a letter stating that they would now oppose the bill.

The letter from the Agribusiness groups states: [B]y incorporating the Tester amendment in the bill, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. In addition, it sets an unfortunate precedent for future action on food safety policy by Congress that science and risk-based standards can be ignored.

What science and risk?  No one has produced any data or evidence of any widespread problems caused by local producers and marketed directly to consumers.  All of the major foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by products that went through the long supply chains of Agribusiness.

Agribusinesss real concern about the Tester-Hagan amendment isnt food safety, but the precedent set by having Congress recognize that small, direct-marketing producers are different, and should be regulated differently than large Agribusinesses.

Agribusiness is trying to convince the Senators to pull the Tester-Hagan amendment back out.  While the amendment is currently part of the Managers Package  the amended version of the bill agreed to by six bipartisan sponsors  nothing is certain until the actual vote.


This Thanksgiving week, please take a moment to call or email your Senators to tell them to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the bill. 


So here is my letter to Senator Merkley, urging him to retain the amendment. I urge you to take 5 minutes (copy, paste, and modify mine if you wish) to contact your Senators as well:

Dear Senators:

It has been very refreshing to see that you have voted to add the Tester-Hagen amaendment to the Food Safety Bill.  As a Nutritionist in Oregon and also an urban dairy goat farmer and avid gardener, it is important to me to be able to source fresh food from farm-to-table without compromise.  The small farms in Oregon have saved my family’s life, in that we are indebted to the fact that Oregon has allowed these farmers to grow their foods freely without immense and costly regulations.  I urge you, despite what the Agribusiness conglomerates want you to belive, to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the bill.

Thank you so much for your commitment to food safety.  It is important for the large suppliers to be subject to these regulations.  Spinach, hamburgers, peanut butter, and all the recent e.coli outbreaks have not come from small, local organic farms.  They have all been a result of the careless practices of agribusiness.  However, the small family farms that for generations have taken great pride in their product should NOT be subject to regulations that could potentially put them out of business.  Standards for food safety? Of course.  But when the consumer can trace their product back to a specific farm, that is motivation enough for the farm to enact high standards of quality control.  A family-owned, direct-marketing farm would not stay in business very long at all if its customers were constantly sick from contaminated food.

Meanwhile, the corrupt and under-regulated meat-packing, dairy, and large-scale conventional farm industries get away with gross abuses of their employees, their animals, and their land.  I think it’s clear where the real problem lies, and I thank you in advance for your committment to protecting the constitutional rights of every American to chose from whom they purchase their foods.

Mrs. Carrie Thienes, BS, MA, NTP