Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"food safety" bills in Congress and how YOU can help! - Long but important

Lifted from an email I sent to 222 people from Oregon who expressed interest either while at my local foods store or at events featuring Joel Salatin last week. Therefore Oregon Senators are listed, but you can find your Senators' contact info on www.congress.org quickly and apply the rest of the information.
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The US Senate is on recess and this is the best time to contact them before they go back to Washington, DC to vote on "food safety." They may vote on HR2749, which was forwarded to the Senate exactly as it passed in the House, or they may vote on S510, which was sponsored by one of their own, Senator Durbin of Illinois. We will need to let them know we oppose both bills as written and why. S-510 is slightly less damaging, but it would not be a good idea to say you want them to vote for it, not HR2749. Both bills would GREATLY REDUCE the availability of locally grown and produced farm and food products, as they will force us to "get big or get out."

There are several ways you can express your thoughts. The quickest is to call. You will almost assuredly talk to an aide, who will ask your name and address. Then you state thay you want Senator ______ to oppose both HR2749 and S-510 because they would force small farms and producers out of business. Have this email handy because the aide may ask questions. Most of the time, however, they just thank you for your input and hang up. The second quickest way is to email the Senator using the form on his website. You should put "oppose HR2749 and S510" in the subject line rather than something that could be misconstrued to be in favor of the bill, like "please make food really safe." The third way is to visit your Senator at one of his offices. This is obviously the most time consuming, but it is also usually very gratifying, especially if you go in a small group (2-5 people, no more) and each of you is prepared to talk briefly about your area of expertise. Well behaved children are generally welcome. Bring something from your own farm or food business. If you have a charming child who can present the Senator with goat cheese, for instance, and a picture of your family goat, or a jar of jelly and homemade bread in a basket, the Senator is likely to remember the experience a long time. Make sure there is plenty so the aides can share, or bring the aides some, too. Or take a collection of letters. Make sure your name, address, phone # and email are on them. Have letters written by your family and friends and children. (Even children can understand that if farming becomes too expensive they will have to give up their favorite goats, chickens and berry bushes!) Make them look different, so it doesn't look like you sat down at a computer and made them all up yourself. Some can be on note cards, some can be typed, etc. Even three or four letters will be noted. Make sure they all say "oppose HR2749 and S510" on them.

You should call first to make an appointment or plan to go to a town hall or event the Senator will be attending.& nbsp; If you don't call, you will likely see the aides only. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they are generally friendly and MOST of them will take notes, but in case they don't, that is what your food and letter are for! When you leave, you will know you have done your part to preserve the right of yourself, your family and your community to (as Joel Salatin says) feed your three trillion internal bacteria with the best food available!

Make sure you acknowledge that you know there have been many outbreaks of illnesses in the news lately, and that you know the Senator is only trying to protect his constituents, but that slapping a one-size-fits-all bill on everyone who produces food in the country will only make food LESS safe because it will take away local food options. Say you feel safer buying food from someone you can see face-to-face, someone who processes food in small batches and oversees every bit of it personally. Make sure you do not confuse HR2749 and S510 with NAIS, but that you mention that these new safety bills have a lot of the same problems, including saddling taxpayers and small producers with huge expenses to cover an industry problem, requiring farmers to shoulder an unfair amount of necessary work, and near certainty that the privacy and property rights of individuals will be unfairly violated.

The structure for this email: first, Senator contact information, then de tails about the bills, then information about OCFA, Oregon Consumers and Farmers Association.

Senator Ron Wyden
Email through a form on his website: www.wyden.senate.gov
Washington, D.C. Office:
223 Dirksen Senate Office Building,District of Columbia 20510-3703Phone: (202) 224-5244Fax: (202) 228-2717
Portland Office:1220 SW 3rd Avenue, Suite 585Portland, Oregon 97204Phone: (503) 326-7525Fax: (503) 326-7528
Eugene Office:405 East 8th Avenue, Suite 2020Eugene, Oregon 97401Phone: (541) 431-0229Fax: (541) 431-0610
Bend Office:131 NW Hawthorne Avenue, Suite 107Bend, Oregon 97701Phone: (541) 330-9142Fax: (541) 330-6266
LaGrande Office:SAC Annex Building, 105 Fir Street, Suite 201LaGrande, Oregon 97850Phone: (541) 962-7691Fax:
Medford Office:310 West 6th Street, Room 118Medford, Oregon 97501Phone: (541) 858-5122Fax: (541) 858-5126
Salem Office:707 13th Street, SE, Suite 285Salem, Oregon 97301Phone: (503) 589-4555Fax: (503) 589-4749

Senator Jeff Merkley
Email: www.:merkley.senate.gov
Washington, D.C. Office:107 Russell Senate Office Building,District of Columbia 20510-3704Phone: (202) 224-3753Fax: (202) 228-3997
Portland Office:121 SW Salmon Street, #1250Portland, Oregon 97204Phone: (503) 326-3386Fax: (503) 326-2900
Eugene Office:405 East 8th Avenue, Suite 2010Eugene, Oregon 97401Phone: (541) 465-6750Fax:
Medford Office:10 South Bartlett Street, Suite 201Medford, Oregon 97501Phone: (541) 608-9102Fax:
Salem Office:495 State Street, Suite 330Salem, Oregon 97301Phone: (503) 362-8102Fax:
Bend Office:131 NW Hawthorne Avenue, Suite 208Bend, Oregon 97701Phone: (541) 318-1298Fax:
Pendleton Office:310 SE Second Street, Suite 105Pendleton, Oregon 97801Phone: (541) 278-1129Fax:

THE DOWN AND DIRTY QUICK VERSIONS:

S510 includes dozens of requirements that the Secretary of Health and Human Services devise and implement plans regarding specific food issues, but of course since these plans are not yet made, the Senate can have no idea what they are voting on other than that the Secretary will take action of some sort.

S510 will require small producers of value added products to register their property with the government, pay an unspecified fee based entirely on what the Health and Human Resources Secretary decides the costs of business are (remember the government's $600 toilet seats? Don't assume this will be reasonable!)

S510 includes a National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy that sounds suspiciously like NAIS for value added products like bread and jam. It also contains an indirect but fairly clear reference to NAIS. It includes working with the Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security to be consistent with "other relevant national strategies." It includes rapid response detection, communication and "surveillance" as well as "developing and conducting exercises to test decontamination and disposal plans" including "contaminated agriculture and food products and infected plants and animals." It includes "immediately investigating animal disease outbreaks and suspected food contamination... organizing, training and equipping animal, plant and food emergency response teams of the Federal government and state, local and tribal governments." You may find this on pages 23 and 24 of the bill. It is not specified how the surveillance will occur, but the word surveillance is used multiple times in this section, and is sometimes paired with the word "laboratory." Can we assume that inspectors will be posing as customers and purchasing products to send off for secret testing? I know a few farmers who were targets of such stings. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will provide biennial reports about fruit and vegetable "raw agricultural commodities" that include recommendations for "enhanced surveillance, outbreak response, and traceability." In Section 204, "Enhancing Traceback and Recordkeeping," the "Secretary shall select participants from the produce industry to run projects which shall include...fruits or vegetables that have been the subject of outbreaks...to develop and demonstrate methods that are applicable and appropriate for small businesses and technologies... that enhance traceback and trace forward." Industry will decide what is appropriate for small businesses! Included in the plans are "working toward automatic electronic searches...The Secretary shall support and maintain a diverse working group of experts and stakeholders..." In "Section 208, Decontamination and Disposal Standards and Plans, " The "Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture shall jointly develop and disseminate model plans for the decontamination of individuals, equipment and facilities... and the disposal of large quantities of animals, plants or food products..." This is on page 46.

On page 3 and 4, "Section 101, Inspections of Records", state that if the Secretary "believes there is a reasonable probability" that the food may be adulterated or make people sick, producers, packers, distributors, importers, processors, and holding facilities shall provide records relating to the food to an agent, officer or employee who is unspecified, but is assumed to be an agriculture or health services employee of the Federal government. Farms and restaurants are currently excluded from this requirement, presumably because farms are the source and restaurants cook and sell food rapidly. However, later in the document, it is clear that farms will be required to produce records. I assume this ambiguity will be removed later.

The Secretary may suspend registration, fine you for your failure to provide adequate records or for other reasons including issues with your processing facility and then charge you costs of reinspection and re-registration. If you are involved in a recall, you will also have to cover the costs of "recall activities." If you do not pay your fees within 30 days of the due date, "such fee shall be treated as a claim of the United States Government," which means they could seize your tax refund or possibly personal property. This part I have not researched thoroughly ; if someone wants to read "subchapter II of chapter 37 of title 31, United States Code" and report back to me, I'd be grateful.

S510 will require even small producers to come up with a HAACP plan, whi ch means you will have to document not only your current food safety measures, but also what could potentially happen to your food and how you will keep such potential occurrence from occurring. This would include using physical structures such as screens over windows and three compartment stainless steel sinks, training employees to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and posting a sign in the bathroom to remind them, and guaranteeing you will not purchase raisins for your raisin bread from someone who is not in compliance (because that would make your bread adulterated and misbranded!), etc. As S510 states, you will "identify and evaluate known or reasonably foreseeable hazards... including biological, chemical, physical, radiological hazards, natural toxins, pesticides, drug residues, decomposition, parasites, allergens, and unapproved food and color additives, and hazards that occur naturally, may be unintentionally introduced, or may be intentionally introduced, including by acts of terrorism, and develop a written analysis of the hazards." Then you will have to "monitor the performance of these controls and maintain records of this monitoring as a matter of routine practice." If you find something that does not comply with the plan, you must document your corrective action. You must keep these records for a minimum of two years. The inspector will look for this and will expect an entry EVERY TIME you do anything related to your business. You bake six l oaves of bread for the farmers market or the retail store down the street, you fill out the HAACP form. I suppose you could write that you found the house doors unlocked and you locked them to keep terrorists out!

S510 will require us to have a recall contingency plan and to verify our suppliers. This means we will have to provide name, address and phone number of where we buy our supplies and who we sell the finished products to. If you sell strictly on farm or at a farmers market or you only occasionally produce bake sale food, which you donate to your church and then your church sells it, you will probably not have to comply with this. These folks have been exempted from regulations in HR2749. However, if you sell retail and wholesale, you should plan on having all these records because inspectors will look for them. You will also need to keep very good records of how your income is split between direct sales and indirect sales, including both retail shops and restaurants. Currently a farmers market booth is considered an extension of your farm, and therefore a direct sales venue. However, even if you are the sole owner and employee, like I am, of a retail store, you are selling indirect. I am sure there will be some hair-splitting over this later. Joel and his neighbors band together to sell products. He's the sales person, then, of many different products. Are his sales direct and the other farmers' sales indirect? Or are they all indirect because they are retail products from multiple sources? If Joel suddenly is deemed to have a retail store, he will have to comply with everything in the bill.

S510 will require us to follow the government's current "science-based" standards not only for our HAACP plan, but also our growing methods! Joel and Tyler of Afton Field Farm can tell you all about the ridiculous requirements for poultry processing buildings, I could tell you about unreasonable egg washing requirements; we are all afraid that they will tell us that we can not grow our fruits, vegetables and livestock naturally, as our families have for generations. S510 states that "the Secretary shall prioritize the implementation of the regulations for specific fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities that have been associated with food-bourne illness outbreaks." In the last few years, this has included spinach, peppers, tomatoes, green onions, cantaloupes, lettuce, peanuts, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts, etc. The Center for Disease Control says that food bourne illnesses have not actually increased, but are being better reported in the press. Hmmm... makes you wonder, since the USDA and FDA distribute a lot of press releases, if they have a reason to fan the fires... like to get NAIS-like plans enforced on producers of value-added products in addition to animal owners? The regulations "include, with r espect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to soil amendments, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment and water and consider hazards that occur naturally, may be unintentionally introduced or may be intentionally introduced, including by acts of terrorism." I can't imagine it would be very satisfactory to a terrorist to drive down my gravel drive to contaminate my 18 tomato plants when he could contaminate hundreds of thousands of plants at a commercial farm. He might sicken five people with my plants or five thousand with the commercial plants.

S510 specifies that farms are exempt from anti-terrorist regulations for short shelf life and bulk foods UNLESS these foods includes milk. So if you grow corn, for instance, you will have to have approved growing methods and keep terrorists away from your plants, but you can rest easy about how you store it once it is picked. But if you have dairy animals, you will have to show that your milk storage facility is terrorist proof.

The Department of Health and Human Services will consult with the Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security for their terrorist prevention strategies. I find it especially nice that these strategies will be published so that terrorists, if there indeed are any, may know what these strategies are.

"Section 113, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management" requires parents to provide schools or other educational programs annually with a doctor's or nurse's documentation that the child has a food allergy, what the symptoms are, if the child has any history of anaphylaxis and a list of substitute foods that may be offered. I would think that every parent should want to protect their child, but I resent the specification that a doctor or nurse must be involved. When my daughter was little, I noticed that certain foods gave her rashes, including milk products, powdered drink mixes and M&Ms. I decided that pasteurized and homogenized milk and certain food colorings were the cause of this. Later I noticed bread products gave her intestinal distress and made her overweight, grouchy and tired. (A doctor diagnosed her as being diabetic and prescribed Metformin, which caused liver damage and repeated trips to hospitals and clinics!) Since she stopped consuming such products, she has been fine. I might have to take her to multiple doctors to find one who agrees with me that raw goat milk is ok, but pasteurized cow milk is not, that flour is bad, but sprouted grains are usually ok, and that dyes that are approved by the government as safe are indeed not safe. Why would I want to do this and subject her to invasive testing when I know from years of living with her what the truth is?

One of the very unfortunate realities of food inspection is that requirements are frequently vague and up to interpretation. The state inspector and the federal inspector may have totally different interpretations of the same words, which can almost be guaranteed to be 180 degrees different from our interpretations. Another unfortunate reality is that sometimes violators are cited, arrested, fined, jailed and even tried in the USDA's court rather than in public courts. Linda Faillace in Mad Sheep documents her experience with how hard it is to win against the USDA in the USDA's own courts.

Not expressly written in the bill, but implied, is that this bill allows the Federal government the unprecedented, unConstitutional authority to interfere with interstate (in-state) commerce. Previously only states and localities could regulate what was sold within their jurisdiction.

So there you have it. I am all for the provision that provides the Federal government the ability to mandate recalls. Currently recalls are voluntary, and producers of contaminated products tend to wait until the problem is huge and many people have been sickened rather than risk the bad press. But much of the rest of the bill tromps on small producers, processors and sales outlets. When our country is experiencing record unemployment and mind blowing debt, why should Congress pass a bill that provides for expenditures of $825,000,000.00 in 2010 ALONE and will put many small producer s out of business? Please do everything you can to help us make sure that the Senate does NOT pass this bill.

HR2749 RFS (The bill as referred to the Senate, available on Thomas.gov) is similar to S510, but far more specific, and does have differences that would affect us:

Hr2749 exempts farms, restaurants, retail stores, non profit organizations and individual homes where food is sold to or served directly to the consumer, which is defined as not being a business. It also exempts farms that process foods for their own consumption. (Generous of them, isn't it?) This is an improvement over previous versions of the bill, but anyone who receives more income selling food indirectly will have to comply with the entire bill. So a farmer who makes more money selling to restaurants or to retail stores (I assume this includes Joel now, since he's gotten the Chipotle account) will have to comply. The division is done by dollars sold rather than by types of food, volume sold or effort and time expended in such sales. This is probably bad news for a lot of people, since a farm may spend three days selling food at markets and on farm to make as much money as they receive from one delivery to a restaurant. I believe it will force many to keep records just in case an inspector shows up, just to prove that they sell mostly direct. It is also bad news for folks who farm part time or do not like dealing with the public who chose to sell only indirectly. Their operations may be no more "commercial" than the folks who sell only on farm, but they will have to comply as if they were a large commercial establishment. This would include folks like me, who work regular jobs and sell just enough to cover the feed bill so we can enjoy having livestock. There are still no exemptions for farmers and producers who sell only within their own states. Again, the Federal government does not have Constitutional authority to interfere with interstate commerce.

HR2749 specifies fees per facility of $500 for 2010 and allows for adjustment for following years. Someone who owns or operates multiple facilities have a maximum fee per year of "not more than $175,000." I wonder if my homestead and my store count as multiple facilities. HR2749 also contains provisions for additional fees for reinspections, recertifications and recalls. HR2749 requires submission of products for testing. I might be ok with this if this were the only requirement, but since we have to pay the fees and the HAACP plans, pass inspection and everything else, and pay for testing... Also, they get to decide who performs the test. I know two Virginia goat cheese manufacturers who had cheese seized and sent off to labs. They both sent samples of the same cheese to facilities they knew. Surprise! The results were different. One of the farmers said the inspectors did not pack her cheese on dry ice before mailing the package off. If you dispute the results, you get to pay for both tests, a retest, fines, and perhaps a lawyer once your facility is shut down. Plus you lose business and possibly receive bad press over the closure, even if you are not guilty. You’d be surprised if you knew how reluctant newspapers were to handle cases like this where the farm is right and the government is wrong.

HR2749 goes into significantly more detail about the Federal government's ability to interfere with foods sold interstate when they suspect a problem. (S510 allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create unknown new regulations.) HR2749 allows for search and seizure if there is "reason to believe" (as opposed to proof) that a product is unsafe, adulterated or misbranded. Remember that adulterated and misbranded could include simply purchasing ingredients from unregistered sources. It also may include raw milk, even in states where raw milk is legal. HR2749 specifically states that producers "in a state or a portion of a state" where there has been a suspected or confirmed food illness outbreak will be quarantined. It includes not only restriction of food, but also "means of conveyance of food," which for many of us would include the farm trucks we use to take food to market - and also to run errands and go to our day jobs.

The FDA still gets to decide what they consider a risky facility that requires inspection once a year or as often as they wish. HR2749 has stricken the requirement that there be "credible evidence" before search and seizure and has replaced those words with "reason to believe." If you make raw goat cheese, watch out. You are not allowed to refuse or delay an inspection, even though the inspectors will be interrupting you at HOME. They are not required to have a search warrant. A warrant limits the search in time, place and scope. They can be in your house for hours, even days, go into your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and other private places, in addition to your computer, address book and cell phone. They can interview your children, your customers, your neighbors. And at least some of them will be packing guns. My personal observation is that farmers who are registered gun owners tend to be treated the roughest during inspections.

The Secretary of the HHS can provide information to state, federal and local agencies at will, but may not necessarily disclose this information to you. Even better, they may also release information to foreign governments, international organizations, the public in general and the IRS. You don’t have to be proven guilty of selling unhealthy food in a court of law. You could simply sell “misbranded” food.

HR2749 also allows for the imprisonment of up to ten years of any person who knowingly sells misbranded or adulterated foods. It also allows for stiff penalties for noncompliance: $20,000.00-50,000.00 for a single individual, $250,000.00 - 1,000,000.00 per company or other group of individuals, up to 50,000.00-7,500,000.00 if they decide you or your company knowingly violated the rules. And here's a really chilling sentence: "Each violation and each day during which the violation continues shall be considered to be a separate offense." They will fine us so violently we will never, ever be able to recover. Already farmers are among the most risky of professions for suicide.

NAIS - most of you know all about NAIS but just in case a few don't, here's a one paragraph summary. National Animal ID is a plan that will require all owners of animals considered "livestock" by the Federal government (whether or not such animals are intended for human consumption, and whether or not such animals are even kept solely for personal use) to register their homes/farms with the government, using real estate metes and bounds and gps coordinates. All livestock owners will be required to identify each animal with government-approved microchips imbedded in the flesh or eartags and to submit this identification information to the government within 24 hours of the occurrence. Additionally, owners will have to report livestock movements (births, deaths, trips to the vet, trips to the fair, lost tags, etc) and veterinarians will be required to turn in non-compliers or they will lose their license. NAIS allows warrantless searches and seizures. Noncompliers may be slapped with a fee of $1,000 per animal per day.

This information is distributed by Oregon Consumers and Farmers Association to encourage farmers, homesteaders and the consumers who love them to stand up against unfair legislative action. Although emails are free, other activities to protect farm and food rights are not. Therefore I have included an OCFA membership application below. Please consider joining OCFA today!

Oregon Consumers and Farmers Association is a non-profit lobbying association dedicated to action. OCFA peruses national, local and state legislation and acts upon any that violate privacy and property rights of farmers, homesteaders and the consumers who enjoy their products.
Future plans are:
Feed your Legislator: We will reserve a room at Oregon’s Legislative Assembly in Salem to provide delicious home grown and produced foods, friendly smiles and conversation. We will help legislators understand that our food is more nutritious, fresh and tasty than that of multinational corporations, that we are real people, and they should do their best to protect us, their constituents.
Farm Food Voices: We will reserve an auditorium and host an event with locally grown and produced foods, guest speakers, a raffle, a book table and easy, convenient activism opportunities.
Demonstrations: In the event of an impending legislative emergency, or if a member farm is treated unfairly by the ODA, we will send out an emergency response team with picket signs and petitions to peaceably discomfort the aggressors and to capture media attention.
We need help: Please donate your photographs of farm families with animals, or consumer families visiting farms. We include these in letters to legislators and on posters showing who is affected by bad legislation. Send them to the address or email below. We need a central location (Eugene to Corvallis) for our rare but important meetings, a webmaster and of course new members!
OCFA membership benefits:
*Potluck strategy meetings
*Newsletter and private e-group
*Access to NICFA, the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association
*10% discount on related books and goods
*Fellowship and support
Join today!
Send $20.00 for one year’s membership to: OCFA, 3849 Green Valley Road, Oakland, Or. 97462
(Donations above $20 much appreciated!)
Name____________________________________________________________________
Address__________________________________________________________________
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Phone________________________ Email_______________________________________
May we email your newsletter rather than mail it to save resources? Yes/no
Comments________________________________________________________________
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Questions? Contact: President Larisa Sparrowhawk, 541-459-1259 at Localvore Fresh Oregon Foods, localvorefresh@aol.com

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