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The Internet is abuzz with concern about the fate of farmer's markets under the newly proposed legislation.

Watch Out, Farm Markets, Buyers! The Giant Food Conglomerates Are Coming

Fear: Bill Written By Corporate Interests Aims to End Local Farm Markets

May 13, 2009       3 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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I guess it was inevitable.

Once farm markets got popular, the food giants awakened.

Like Jack in the Beanstalk, the giants are angry.

"How dare the little farmers take a share of our market!" they no doubt cursed.

Get this: Lays Potato Chips has kicked off a marketing campaign trying to position the nation's best selling brand of potato chips as local food.

"We grow potatoes in Florida, and Lays makes potato chips in Florida," says one ad, over-reaching, "It's a pretty good fit."

And, worse than that, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would divide the responsibilities of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and put food under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services, which would have more stringent guidelines. The legislation is HR 875 or the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.

Some Internet bloggers charge that the bill was written by ConAgra and other large agricultural conglomerates.

Keith Forrester, owner of Whitton Flowers and Produce Farms, near Memphis, Tennessee, got worried when he read a summary of the bill. He is concerned the regulations would make it more difficult to sell his products at the Memphis Farmers Market and other venues.

"It will wipe out the direct market aspect," Forrester said. "It's going to put more of the burden of responsibility on so many levels of the government that it's going to make it basically impossible to directly market food, is what it's going to do. You're going to have to be a corporate farm, man. You're going to have to be a corporate farm to make it work. We're not."

The Internet is abuzz with concern about the fate of farmer's markets under the newly proposed legislation. Many are alarmed that organic growers of local produce and even those gardening for themselves could be lumped in with commercial food vendors, calling them to meet new requirements for processes, record-keeping, and inspections.

Blogger Jenny on NourishedKitchens.com, writes: "Remember, this law would affect every farmer or food producer who must transport his goods to sell them - in effect, every single farmer. That means that an orchard that sells fresh fruit at a roadside stand would be affected; a farmer who delivers CSA boxes would be affected, even a home gardener who brings excess harvest to a farmers market's community booth would have to register or be subject to $1,000,000 fines and that garden plot would be subject to inspection by federal agents. Ridiculous, isn't it? But it's true."

"HR 875 is such a massive bill, with such massive requirements and restrictions that, in effect, only huge agribusinesses would be able to effectively meet all its requirements. The small family farm would be history and, along with it, farm stands, farmers markets, most food cooperatives and CSAs.

"Ms. Delaura is married to Stanley Greenberg. Stanley Greenberg is a political consultant whose clients have included Monsanto. Monsanto, the same corporation, who blessed us with RBGH and genetically engineered seeds. Should we really trust Ms. Delauro or her husband to make these kinds of decisions for the American people?"

A news reporter spoke with a spokesperson for Congresswoman DeLauro, who introduced the bill. "The spokesperson assured me that the bill does not apply to vendors at farmer's markets, and therefore will not change the way this business runs. It is meant to address food sold in supermarkets."

A press release from DeLauro's office states, "There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized by any fines, or shut down. Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill. In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods."

In response to the question about organic growers and the possible impact of this bill, the Congresswoman's office responds "There is no language in the bill that would stop or interfere with organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee. "If you have concerns, contact your representative now, while the bill is still undercooked," commented one observer.

Another wrote: "Rep. DeLauro's office says there is no language in her bill that would apply to vendors at farmers markets or stop/interfere with organic farming. However, sec. 206 of the bill says, "Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture, shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food by food production facilities." The bill also says, "The term "food production facility" means any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation." So, under the bill, all farms--organic or not--are "food production facilities."

The blogger continued:

"Contrary to the assurances of Rep. DeLauro's office, if the vendors at farmers markets are farmers, the bill most definitely applies to them. Further, does Rep. DeLauro know what regulations will be promulgated after passage after her bill? If not (and she can't), how does she know there will be no interference with organic farming?"

One farm market proponent looked critically at the proposed legislation: "Although the spokesperson does sound reassuring the text of the bill definitely is in conflict with the comments intended to pacify those too lazy to read the text of the bill. READ IT! Any lawyer in this country could easily include every single entity in (and out of this country) that grows so much as a single carrot for consumption by another. To believe otherwise is folly. TAKE AN HOUR TO READ HR 875, how could one not believe it COULD include every farm in the world that produces and handles food. Good intentions maybe, bad, expensive, easily-manipulated results definitely. A spokespersons words mean nothing, the law of the bill is the law. And this law regulates to the level that marginally profitable farms will die."

"The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me," said Michael Pollan, the author of 'In Defense of Food' and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine. "They can turn any critique into a new way to sell food. You've got to hand it to them."

The media inevitably got into the act, with the corporate friendly Wall Street Journal and Yahoo.com on the attack.

The reports stirred the following responses from Michigan farm markets advocates:

"When I first read the article, I was angry," said Susan Smalley of Michigan State University.

"I still don't like its approach or tone, but I'm realizing that it raises points that are important for all of us who love farmers markets. Reading the article reminds me that every market (and every vendor) has to develop their own purpose and mission and principles and guidelines, and that it is important for us to share them with one another and especially for the customers of the market.

"Too often we may assume that a farmers market automatically means fresh or local or sustainable or whatever. Many times it does, but not always. Making our values and principles transparent to all is important!"

Martha Dindoffer wrote: "This article, published through the Wall Street Journal, appears only one click away from a main yahoo.com news headline.Maybe I'm reading more into it than what is really there, but it struck me as a bid for consumers to forget buying produce at the farmer's market and go back to buying from grocers."

Where the farm markets may really have poked the giants' beanstalk is with schools.

With the 2008-09 school year, districts across the country are increasingly signing on to the "farm-to-school" movement. A number of school districts have cut back on fruits and vegetables purchased from large distributors in favor of buying from local farmers. While that can be more expensive and may involve more work -- from procurement to preparation -- food directors say it pays dividends in fresher, better-tasting produce that more kids eat.

Signing up more kids for school lunches can help the bottom line, since schools receive a per-student subsidy from the Agriculture Department's National School Lunch Program. At the same time, schools are bolstering regional agricultural economies.

More than 50 million students eat lunch in school cafeterias daily. Often, the produce that appears on their trays is shipped from far-away states. While that may sometimes be necessary in the colder climes, increasing concerns about issues such as food safety and childhood obesity may prompt more districts to seek out local fare when it's in season.

Meanwhile, MSU Student Organic Farm's Outreach Coordinator, Adam Montri, is hosting tours of MSU's transplant greenhouse, beginning May 26 and running all summer, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions about all parts of the Student Organic Farm.

There is no charge for these tours due to funding from the USDA Risk Management Agency.

Please email Adam at admontri@msu.edu to register.###

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sklep Says:       On February 10, 2012 at 09:21 AM
October 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm Hello! I just would like to give a huge thmbus up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.
Agree? or Disagree?


Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at carraroe@aol.com)

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