Food Fight: Will the Food Safety Modernization Act harm small farms or producers?

Over the past few months, some CAGJ members have gotten in touch with us wondering about the Food Safety Modernization Act, and what it might mean for consumer safety, small farms, organics, and more. Grist has been doing a series recently with writers and experts from many different stakeholders in this act, including the most recent article on small farms and producers.  You can see the intro to the series and the other pieces here.

Word has it that debate and voting of the Food Safety Modernization Act will begin this Wednesday in the Senate. If passed, S. 510 will greatly expand the FDA’s authority over both processed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. Will it thus make all of us eaters less likely to get sick? Last week, our esteemed panelists agreed that it will, with some caveats. (For all installments in this Food Fight series, see box, upper right; full bios are here.)

But now we come to one of the most contentious questions surrounding the bill: At what cost? Meaning, are S. 510’s measures so onerous to small farmers and producers as to put them out of business … and thus limit the choices available to us eaters?

Our experts are drawn from both sides of the electrified fence: consumer organizations and victim-advocacy groups that want to see the strongest safeguards enacted possible, and small, sustainable farming advocates who fear that a nascent local-food system will be crushed by Congress’s industrial-scale sausage-maker. (Plus one very scrappy Grist-reading grad student.)

As you will read in the following pages (yes, that’s plural; please note that there are three pages for this epic discussion), they disagree, sometimes violently, about whether S. 510 will do more harm than good. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) were concerned enough about the answer to propose the Tester-Hagan amendment to S. 510, which exempts certain small farms and food-processing businesses from the requirements. (PDFs available here and here from Tester’s office.) Problem solved, right? Well no. Some think that the Tester amendment dilutes the bill or would let risky farms slip through the safety nets.

Read the article and responses at

Posted in Food Justice Blog Posts.

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