Single-party control of our government has created a situation where the normal restraints of common sense and accountability have been entirely lifted from our legislators and they feel free to engage in the most dangerous and destructive possible legislation in the service of special interests whose goals are inimical to the welfare of most Americans and especially of small businesses and vulnerable groups who dare to challenge the dominance of powerful business or issue-oriented lobbies.
This lack of accountability and invulnerability to effective opposition is what makes it possible for a bill like H. R. 875 to be introduced and even attract the support of almost 40 sponsors. This deceptively named “Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009” creates a special department within the Department of Health and Human Services called the Food Safety Administration, which is specifically tasked with expanding the regulatory role of that agency into the small organic farms, backyard gardens and kitchens of gardeners and entrepreneurs who sell food products at farmers markets, through local stores or even to their neighbors. This is all in the interest of protecting consumers from health risks, but if you read the history of major food contamination cases over recent decades every major case stems from large-scale industrial agriculture, not from small farms, home-canning or other traditional and entrepreneurial food production.
In truth this bill is nothing but an effort to protect the agricultural and food processing giants who control 90% of the food production in the nation from the competition of tiny cottage industries and income supplementing gardeners who may nibble away at a tiny portion of the sales of food and agriculture megacorporations. It is the trust-busting of Teddy Roosevelt and the progressive era turned on its head. It is government protecting corporate monopolists from even the smallest challenge of free enterprise.
Perhaps worst of all, these proposed new regulations are so pervasive that they might very well prohibit you from producing food to feed your own family and they include draconian enforcement measures designed to discourage any attempts at home or small scale agriculture. In section 3 of the bill it specifically defines the jurisdiction of this new agency to include any “facility owned or operated by a person located in any State that processes food or a facility that holds, stores or transports food or food ingredients,” further defined as “any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility or confined animal feeding operation.” That means my hydroponic herb garden, my catfish pond, my little chicken pen, the peach trees in my front yard, etc. What’s more, the act specifically exempts from these regulations the large agribusinesses already covered under the authority of the Department of Agriculture or the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act, so it is clearly aimed at small and part-time farmers.
The enforcement provisions are particularly troubling, based around requirements that any food production facility be inspected, apparently including your yard and kitchen. These inspections must go through accredited labs and be done at the expense of the food producer — a requirement whose expense alone will shut down many small farms. What’s more federal inspectors can come on your property without a warrant, seize your plants and livestock and “detain” them for up to 30 days. The bill includes no provisions for feeding, watering or refrigerating the detained food products. All of this can take place on bureaucratic whim with no due process of law. Produce any food and you basically lose all property rights.
Section 405 of the bill assigns penalties of up to $1,000,000 for not complying with inspections or distributing uninspected food. It also includes provisions where if a fine is levied in a non-judicial hearing and you don’t pay it, they can file a civil case against you and seize your property and assets to pay the fine. So can those peaches in your front yard and sell them in the local market and you could well lose your house and everything you own.
The crowning irony is that all of this regulation and enforcement power is directed at a problem which does not exist. It doesn’t target the industrial farms which have contaminated spinach and tomatoes in recent years or the peanut processing factories which recently gave so many salmonella or the huge, e-coli contamination producing slaughterhouses. It targets small organic farms which sell to local specialty markets and restaurants and the guy at the farmers market with a basket of eggs and a box of hand-picked zucchinis whose standards of cleanliness and responsibility are by nature superior to the dubious practices followed in giant agrobusinesses.
The bill was authored by Rose DeLauro (D-CT) and has 37 co-sponsors. It is currently being gone over by the House Agriculture Committee. Not surprisingly, top contributors to DeLauro’s 2008 reelection campaign include lobbyists for the poultry industry, industrial agriculture and major unions. DeLauro’s bill is a strong reminder that the War on Capitalism begins at the very lowest level where the most vulnerable entrepreneurs and cottage industries lack the resources and political influence to protect themselves from being regulated out of existence at the command of monopolistic corporations and their elected lackeys.