By Tom Philpott from Gristmill
The Internets are abuzz with accounts of a House bill, allegedly sponsored by Monsanto and pushed through Congress by its lackeys, that would "criminalize organic farming" and even backyard gardening. The object of frenzy: H.R. 875, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, a bill that attempts to bolster the broken food-safety system.
Here's how one critic, whose work circulates widely on sustainable-food listservs, characterizes it:
The bill is monstrous on level after level -- the power it would give to Monsanto, the criminalization of seed banking, the prison terms and confiscatory fines for farmers, the 24 hours GPS tracking of their animals, the easements on their property to allow for warrantless government entry, the stripping away of their property rights, the imposition by the filthy, greedy industrial side of anti-farming international "industrial" standards to independent farms -- the only part of our food system that still works, the planned elimination of farmers through all these means.
Wait, did she just say "the planned elimination of farmers"?
I've been reading hysterical missives about H.R. 875 for weeks. I could never square them with the text of the bill, which is admittedly vague. For example, the bill seeks to regulate any "food production facility" which it defines as "any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation."
But then again, the USDA already regulates farms. And "24 hours GPS tracking of ... animals"? Not in there. "Warrentless government entry" to farms? Can't find it.
More recently, reading around the web, I found more reasoned takes on H.R. 875. The bill may not be worth supporting -- and from what I hear, it has little chance of passing. But it hardly represents the "end of farming," much less the end of organic farming. The Organic Consumers Association, an energetic food-industry watchdog, recently called the paranoia around H.R. 875 the "Internet rumor of the week."
The Organic Consumers Association has this to say:
The Organic Consumers Association is not taking a position for or against this bill, but encouraging its members to write to Congress to urge it to enact food safety legislation that addresses the inherent dangers of our industrialized food system without burdening certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations.
Quite sensibly, the OCA wants Congress to avoid "one-size-fits-all legislation." Regulations that make sense for a 1000-acre spinach farm could push a diversified operation that includes spinach in its crop mix out of business. Sustainable-food advocates should oppose H.R. 875 until it adds scale-appropriate language.
But effective opposition does not mean indulging in fictional rants about it. There's no evidence that the bill aims to end farming; insisting that it does destroys credibility.
Meanwhile, Food & Water Watch, a group that does generally excellent work, has issued a statement debunking myths around H.R. 875. Anyone who's been lashed into a frenzy by doomsday accounts of this bill should read the F&WW statement.