Tuesday, April 7, 2009


A pork sausage display at our local grocery store (Fresh Seasons)

What? Can't think of something to write about? That's not a problem!
by Charlie Leck

One of my readers noticed that I only wrote six of the seven days last week. He thought I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to write about. He emailed me a web site devoted to helping writers work their way through periods of 'bloggers' block."

That's not the problem. I haven't encountered any such difficulty. The problem is quite the opposite. I have dozens of things, every day, that I want to write about. I'm putting off until tomorrow, for instance, my response to a column by David Lebedoff that appeared in the local Sunday paper. Lebedoff is a wonderful writer. I've recommended him to you before. Come back to hear about his column, "Imagine there's no heaven...."

One of my neighbors asked me about a bill working its way through Congress right now (HR875). It has to do with increasing the standards of safety for food products. It follows in the wake of the serious Peanut Butter debacle. Rosa Delauro, a Democratic Representative from Connecticut is the chief author of the bill.

My neighbor was worried that it would affect backyard gardeners and make home gardening subject to government inspection. He was pretty steamed!

This is another one of those cases that sees the slimy hand of right-wing radio talk show hosts stirring up the muddy water.

The bill is a long one. I didn't have the energy or drive to read through it. Instead, I thought I'd depend on some reputable people who had. One of them is Patty Lovera, an Assistant Director of Food and Water Watch (FWW). There's a blog on the organization's web site called "Getting the Facts Straight on HR875." I'll distill it for you.

Right out of the box, we're assured that the bill won't regulate seed storage, backyard gardens or farmers markets. The main intention of the bill is to split THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION (FDA) into two divisions -- one for food and one for drugs. Lovera's organization supports such a move.

Lovera points out that another House bill (HR759) might be a bigger concern for small farmers. That bill could end up being a headache for small guys since it is really structured to regulate large corporate food production facilities.

FWW is concerned that the playing field might be tipping even more in a direction that will favor the big farmers and make life more complex for the small ones.

The same neighbor who wondered about this issue, was also the guy who complained to me a few years ago about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This is a program put in place by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2003. It was not approved by Congress. FWW doesn't like this program at all. The organization says that NAIS ignores currently strong local regulation in most states and gathers much too much data that forces small farmers to submit information to private associations about which they have mixed or negative feelings. The expense in collecting and keeping this data for the small farmer is significant.

Just for the record, the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association doesn't completely agree with Lovera and FWW. Its Executive Director, Deborah Stockton, thinks that the passage of either HR875 or HR759 will strengthen NAIS and provide the small livestock farmer with even more headaches. Stockton believes the law might even affect the backyard poultry raiser.

Stockting is asking the House to amend the bills so that local food systems -- ones that don't sell across state lines -- will be exempt from the bill. She wants specific language put in the bill that will provide guarantees to small family farms, backyard gardeners and small livestock farmers that they will be exempt.

If you've joined the recent "buy local" movement in food, and if you've become a fan of the local farmers market movement, you might want to write to your Congressperson and suggest such amendments noted in the above paragraph for HR875 and HR759. On matters like this, it doesn't take thousands of letters to get your Representative to respond -- it doesn't even take hundreds. A few dozen letters on an issue like this will get a response from your elected federal officials.

In the interests of full disclosure, we do have a self-interest in urging you to write about this bill. My wife is a lamb producer. We sell locally and participate in local farmers markets. A further extension of NAIS into the provinces of the very small farmer will definitely affect us and likely take us out of the business.

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