"Consumer Groups Get It Wrong" -- Plus a new food safety report

Adding to the earlier version of this story: National Sustainable Agriculture Committee has released a new report on food safety: “A Sustainable Agriculture Perspective on Food Safety.”

The report was released by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition on November 11, providing excellent background to the current debates around proposed federal legislation (covered below). The NSAC report is available as a pdf that can be downloaded from http://www.sustainableagriculture.net.

Here is the report’s summary outlook, which reminds readers of important assumptions that often are ignored or misunderstood by those who conflate industrial agriculture with local/regional food producers and systems:

"As citizens and as stakeholders, our commitment to food safety is informed by our concerns about:
•The long-term loss of topsoil, species diversity, natural resources, opportunity for farms and rural communities, and choices for consumers
•The public health consequences of industrial chemical and pharmaceutical use on and off farms
•The long-term effects of implementing inadequately tested and controlled technology
•The concentration of wealth, power, and control of production in the hands of fewer and fewer players in the food system
•Private ownership and patenting of seeds and other production technologies
•A widening gap in the connection between many citizens and the sources of their food
•Instances in which farmers are disregarded or vilified, in particular by other farmers
•The measurable but unpredictable impacts of the industrial model applied to agriculture

We believe that many answers to these concerns and to general food safety risks can be found in holistic approaches and ‘bigger picture’ solutions. We believe that everything is connected, and that as a consequence our global food system affects family farmers, communities and diverse species of plants and animals all across the planet. We claim our place at the table in every current and future discussion of these and other emerging issues involving our food system, its health and impacts."

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“Consumer groups get it wrong” on the Tester amendment to food safety legislation. That’s the pointed and persuasive analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), written by Ferd Hoefner. Hoefner’s detailed analysis, released on October 20, is titled, “Consumer Groups Issue Badly Flawed Analysis of the Pending Tester-Hagan Food Safety Amendment.” The amendment to S. 510 distinguishes small food processors from large corporate firms; it is being offered by Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Kay Hagan. To read the full report, use this link to the sustainableagriculture.net website: http://s.coop/4ko.

The issue is urgent. A Senate cloture vote on the bill is currently scheduled for November 17. If cloture is approved, amendments will then be considered, if time allows before the Senate recess.

NSAC represents 40 grassroots family farm, food, rural, and conservation organizations from all regions of the country. The consumer groups’ letter, sent to the full Senate, was signed by Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Safe Tables Our Priority, and five other groups. In this case, the two sides’ respective constituencies appear to make a great deal of difference, since the family farm and food organizations have a better understanding of the situation of small food producers and processors.

Ongoing food scares, contamination and recalls have everyone’s attention, and the Senate bill is one response. But the bill is crafted for “preventive control plans” (also known as HACCP: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) used by large corporations that grow and process food. The farm and food groups are trying to achieve passage of an important amendment that would recognize and clarify already existing procedures for food facilities that direct market more than 50% of total sales to consumers. Under the Tester amendment, that exemption would be expanded to include restaurants and grocery stores. Without such an amendment, the current bill threatens to impose unreasonable requirements that could drive out of business many of the small, regional food operations that are sprouting up in the local food revival.

Be sure to read the details in the full report by Hoefner at the NSAC website, which discusses erroneous claims made by the consumer groups. Help forestall this needless attack on an amendment that recognizes the small operators that sell direct to consumers, sell less than $500,000 per year, and sell within one region. Help get the word out to co-op members food activists about supporting the Tester amendment!

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