The Food Safety Modernization Act – Part 1

The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011 is, according to the Food and Drug Administration “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years”.  If you’ve been paying attention since this bill was reintroduced in June 2009 (only a few months after the original died in the Senate) then you’ve heard the ‘most sweeping reform’ bit before…a lot.  You’ve probably also heard that this law will fix the nation’s food safety problem.  You may also have heard that there are a lot of farmers and farm patrons who don’t like this law.  And that’s about it.  What you will not have heard, unless you went and looked into this for yourself is that the FSMA will in fact not fix the nation’s broken food safety net.  You also would have missed the fact that this law will push tens of thousands of people out of small-scale farming.  These last statements are not the mere hyperbole of an outspoken farmer.  They are the statements and predictions of the FDA itself. I intend to spend several posts ranting about the Food Safety Modernization Act so grab some non GMO popcorn and pull up a chair.

The unfortunate truth about this issue is that it, like so much that happens in the world today, has been either completely missed or misrepresented by the media.  In either case the reason is a lack of will  to look past the press releases from the FDA and the result is a largely under informed and/or misinformed population.  Here’s the quick rundown on the reasons this became an issue in the first place.

Good farmers encourage biodiversity.  This bird house encourages swallows to eat bugs.  Under the FSMA this bird house is a possible contaminant.

Good farmers encourage biodiversity. This bird house encourages swallows to eat bugs. Under the FSMA this bird house is viewed as a threat to your safety.

Each year in the United States, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food sickens 48 million people.  128,000 of them are hospitalized and 3000 people die.  These numbers were actually revised down a few years ago just before the FSMA was introduced.  To my knowledge, other than a bland statement about ‘better data’ there has never been a reckoning as to why the numbers were suddenly and so dramatically changed.  And dramatic it was.  In 1999, the year the last estimate was released, the CDC estimated that 76 million people were sickened annually.  Which means their previous data was really, really bad.  Or maybe it was good and the new data is flawed.  Apparently, we’re supposed to simply accept that it’s much better now. But did you know that not all of the data, nor how it is analyzed is public?  The CDC keeps vast amounts of its data and inner workings secret under the guise of national security.  Public interest and food rights groups have had to sue the CDC just to get the data we can access.  Gives new meaning to ‘Public’ Health.

Either way, 76 million or 48 million, that’s a lot of people getting sick from something as basic as food.  We’re not talking about radioactivity in the atmosphere or water being poisoned by the dumping of toxic chemicals from activities like fracking.  We’re talking about food.  It’s the third most important substance required just to survive (behind air and water).  Using the CDC’s more conservative numbers that’s still nearly one out of every six U.S. citizens sickened by the industrial food system.  In other words, if you live in a household consisting of two adults and four children the odds are good that one of you will get sick every year just from eating.

Diversified farms, those growing crops and raising animals are a a threat to your safety under the FSMA.

Diversified farms, those growing crops and raising animals are a a threat to your safety under the FSMA.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was allegedly crafted to fix this gnawing problem.  (Like what I did there?)  And lots of people were on board.  Indeed, the act was pushed by not only Big Ag. but also by food safety groups.  The act, introduced originally by a democratic senator and then reintroduced by a democratic member of the house of representatives had bipartisan support throughout the legislative process.  And it was signed into law by President Obama who must be in tune with food safety and food rights issues right?  After all, his wife Michelle Obama had part of the White House lawn ripped up to install an organic garden.  And now the federal agency tasked with ensuring the safety of both the food and drug systems in this country, has been tapped to oversee the rule making and enforcement of the FSMA.  The FDA is on the job.

Let me stop you mid inhale if you’re about to breathe a sigh of relief that all of these forces are concerned on your behalf and clearly have the situation well under control.  As I said, this law will not, repeat NOT make the food system that much safer, if at all.  This law will have the opposite effect.  This law will put thousands of farmers out of business.  Again, this is not my opinion.  These are the projections of the FDA itself.  Stay tuned as, over the next few posts, I dissect this further and explore the many problems with the FSMA.  I will not be offering my opinion (well, not blatantly anyway) but rather simply drawing your attention to public statements and records available for anyone to view but that the entire media establishment (mainstream and alternative), which is supposed to be the watchdog of the government on our collective behalf has missed.  Until then, keep searching out local farmers and local food and grow/raise your own.  It’s a great way to combat the system and very soon you’ll be so glad you did!  Local Food.  Eat well – be well.

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Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.