Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), the only farmer serving in the upper chamber, touted his work on the recently enacted food safety law before a sustainable food audience in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

“The thing about food policy is if you eat, it affects you,” said Tester in his remarks, which largely focused on his creds as an advocate for “good” agriculture policies, at Washington Post’s Future of Food conference at Georgetown University. Tester cited the heated, months-long debate over his amendment to exempt small farmers from key elements of the sweeping FDA Food Safety Modernization Act as an example of the increasing clout of the food movement.

“The Food Safety Bill was a much-needed overhaul of our food safety as it applied to vegetables and manufactured foods,” explained Tester, adding that he thought the bill needed to be “reworked” to consider small farmers.
“The bill needed to account for locally grown food from farming and processing operations that directly market their products to consumers,” he said, because he believes small farmers pose minimal risk “compared to the corporate farms that ship their products hundreds and hundreds of miles to their markets.”

“My argument throughout the debate was this: Family growers have more ‘eyeballs to the acre,’ ” said Tester. “They have more control over the food they produce. And if there is a problem, it’s not like some food factory that can send bags of lettuce to 40 different states in a matter of hours. The real problem was never with the folks who take their goods to the farmer’s market in a wheelbarrow,” he argued. “The real problem was with our centralized food system — the factories that churn out hundreds of jars of peanut butter every day – and ship them to every corner of the country.”

Tester noted that many well-funded food industry groups put up a considerable effort to defeat his amendment, arguing that no one should be exempt from the new law, but Tester and his coalition, made up largely of local food and consumer advocates, and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), eventually prevailed.
As Tester put it: “The corporate giants unleashed everything they had against a grain farmer from Big Sandy, Montana.”
“But in the end… guess… who… won? We won…We won because common sense prevailed. And that’s my message to you,” he added, in closing. “Smart, sustainable food policy is common sense.  And if you fight for it, you can win it.”

  • Doc Mudd

    Sounds about right. Hobby farmers won, consumers can pay a premium and go pound salt as far as food safety is concerned. Fair enough, eh?
    At least we got to “know our farmer”…and learn that he/she cares nothing for the safety of customers and their families, only for superstition and grubby profits. Merrigan should be pleased, too.

  • ICBM

    No…. it’s your anti small farm auto-jerking knee that sounds about right for the Muddddddy one. Add to that a blindness affliction — handy for ignoring the risky grubby corporate profiteers that are the real threat to food safety…. Can’t say your “healthiness” is in good shape, Doc.

  • Doc Mudd

    All the dreadful “corporate profiteers” are snugly embraced by FSMA — and they’re not whining about that. They have a demonstrated interest in assuring customer safety and are keen to have their products evaluated and passed for safety.
    Not so the darling “little hobby farmers” who have a demonstrated interest in evading custommer safety issues and whose products probably couldn’t hold up to any science-based evaluation. For example, define “healthiness” and explain how that is measured. Heh, the key selling point for your grubby manure-laden organic stuff is nothing more than popularized superstition and hot air. “Healthiness”, indeed.
    No sketchy farm market/flea market food for my family. Caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor.

  • As any good scientist knows food pathogens have been trained to avoid small farms. If a food pathogen forgets it is ok because a small farmer has super duper eyes to see this pathogen and prevent this product from going to market. This partly why they have the saying “when you can look your farmer in the eye you know your food is safe” (super duper eyes). Of course a small farmer never sells food to a larger corporation so we would never have a small farm cross-contaminate all the other products. Of course not because the small farm is exempt from food safety regulations because they are inherently safer and less risky according to the people who might have been regulated! Brilliant. Of course individual or small farms would never be or become greedy, they are angels, only big corporations. While big corporations have proven themselves to be greedy this isn’t due to the corporation, this is due to the individual, you the stock holder demanding earnings. Humans inherently greedy, I fail to see how one can claim that small farms are not greedy based upon their size.
    Finally, let’s talk about size. What a strawman this is. If anything a risk based regulation/inspection can take place but nothing? Bogus. How about only licensing restaurants that have more than 3 locations? If there is only one restaurant then the risk is lower based on Testers argument. One restaurant may only sicken 20 people, Burger King can sicken 100’s. That’s the argument and it stinks. There is no excuse for a food processor not to be able to follow and comply with food regulations. It is just sad that people would argue against something that is a benefit to public health and society.
    Part of making regulations is to do a cost/benefit analysis. What good is regulating a needed resource if you put everyone out of business? Have people factored in the continued costs to our health care for these foodborne illnesses that will remain and not decrease? By not being regulated is there going to be any consequence to the small producer for cost of insurance? I know I would raise my premiums if I was an insurance company! How about the continued cost of government having to investigate the foodborne outbreaks and recalls that aren’t reduced because I can assure you a routine inspection is a lot easier and quicker.
    Probably not. As usual people get stuck in their beliefs and don’t look at the bigger picture and view it and critically think about it. We need to stop the knee jerk reacting, throwing short term fixes at things so joe senator gets re-elected, and stop the people that are being regulated from making the laws. Those regulated need to have input but they shouldn’t write the laws. We forgot about “for the people” it’s all about “me” and that applies to the corporations also, because who are they ultimately run by? A “me”, the stock holders. But lets not regulate let’s privatize because deregulation/no regulation worked out so well on Wall street and the banking industry. How soon we forget. By the way, we do not want Government to be run like a business. Business is there to make money, you do not want your government making a profit off of you. We don’t want Government to lose money however. So please, stop with the stupid idea that Government should be run like a business. Try saying efficiently and effectively instead.

  • ICBM

    Interesting argument jim, except small farms ARE regulated under FSMA — but differently, appropriate to scale — and in fact the rule-making phase is going on as we speak — so No One except the inner sanctums of FDA really know what the regs will look like…
    And as as been said here before there’s no need for requiring expensive electronic barcoding equipment for direct face to face sales at Farmers Markets, for example, but rapid traceability is critically important when a contaminated batch of spinach with a 17 day shelf live has been sent out in microbe-incubator bags to supermarket consumers in 27 states (as happened in the 2006 outbreak). And while ALL food needs to be safe –food safety risk is very definitely relative to scale and industrialization.
    Aso, there seems to be some confusion between how FSMA handles farmers and processors. The Tester (Sanders, Bennet, Stabenow, etc) amendments within FSMA regs only apply to the farming side of the equation — processors of every scale are subject to similar provisions.

  • Small farmers are profit minded as well as the larger farming corporations. If a small farmer wants to participate in supplying fresh food to any self respecting retail food establishment, they will have to comply with food safety regulations just like everyone else. Yes, this amendment ignores sound science, but I am speculating that it might see limited adoption as small organizations figure out that this exemption merely keeps them out of profitable mainstream markets and severly limits their options to sell through any larger organization or distribution channel.

  • Doc Mudd

    “Family growers have more ‘eyeballs to the acre,’ said Tester”
    I’m not sure its “eyeballs” or cheeseballs or pingpongballs – but it sure takes a lot of brass to whine and cry for a special exemption then gloat over how they shafted consumers out of food safety assurance.
    Goofballs. It could be ‘more goofballs to the acre’.

  • ICBM

    Oh the Mudddista — such a knee-jerk projectionist…… always describing self in the depiction of other… Very Boring thoug.h

  • Doc Mudd

    No knee-jerk reaction here. Just a calm, well thought out strategy to keep a family safe from untested food produced and distributed by eccentric little snake oil salesmen.
    The best approach is prevention – simply don’t buy dubious flea market food from hobbyists who care nothing for your family’s safety. They are only after your grocery money, let them pick someone else’s pocket.
    The second best approach, if you fall for the superstitious ‘local food’ sales pitch, is to at least get a paper receipt for the transaction.
    Insist that the receipt list, in addition to details of the transaction, full local contact information for the grower and vendor (no problem, certainly, since these gassy yahoos swear they want to be known to you as “your farmer”). So get a receipt – no transaction is complete without one…and it could save your local health department a lot of valuable investigation time when your kids get sick with food poisoning.
    See, you have to do all of the work to ‘inspect’ the dubious food and establish traceability. It’s all on the consumer’s shoulders to defend their family’s safety – Tester has skillfully seen to that. Caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!

  • Shroomduke

    Wow, such vitriol, such anger, lol!
    It looks to me like some people have a bigger horse in this race than others and their pile is larger then others.
    So do we regulate the organic farmers or small farms like we do the big opperations? is that what this is about?
    Or is the argument that this is a lockdown on food production and a big wet kiss to Mega Agribusiness?
    What are the targets of this legislation? goals, and are there loopholes for Corporate Farms?
    One problem I have is that many farmers seem to be touchy and I can’t blame them because it’s boom or bust. We want safe food and a stable food supply. Healthy farmers and healthy families. Nobody like big brother sticking his nose in their business but nobody wants mass poisonings. Personally I think Wall Street is the Other Big-Brother with their fingers in everybodys pie!

  • Ellie

    It’s true that small farmers have few critical control points in their process. There are fewer points in the process that could introduce pathogens into the food. Small farmers have only a handful of workers to monitor for illness and hygiene. They have only a few trucks to clean out, and fewer acres to monitor for wildlife and flooding. They usually don’t hold, refrigerate, ship, or process their food. It’s harvested and delivered almost immediately. As a microbiologist I can tell you pathogens need time and temperature to do their work. Fast turn around means very low levels of bacteria. It makes no sense to apply the same rules to two very different types of agriculture. The bottom line is, as an agricultural scientist and microbiologist, I buy local produce and meat. It’s safer.

  • Doc Mudd

    Animal manure fertilizer + vegetables = risk of bacterial contamination regardless of “turn around”.
    Pretty reckless and unprofessional recommendation that “local produce and meat [is] safer”. Foolish assumption and a downright dangerous message coming from any sort of biologist.

  • Thank you, Ellie for your information. I’m happy to see that someone has done the research.
    Doc Mudd, you and Jim almost sound like you work for big Ag.
    I am a farmer and own a very small farm that provides fresh eggs, cut flowers and produce to the area within 25 miles of Pensacola, FL. My farm is NOT a ‘Hobby farm’and neither are the 30+ farms that attend the Palafox Farmers Market on Saturdays. I work this farm. It is my FULL TIME JOB and HAS to pay bills and feed my family. My Husbands job is as an Electrician. He is the only other person helping me when he can. I take my occupation as a food provider very seriously and make decisions based on the people who eat what I grow and their well being. To say that we, as small farmers or organic growers just do what we want with food is rediculous and ignorant. If I put poisons on my produce or feed my chickens chemically laced foods and our customers get sick, I am the one that they come to! Face to face with my customers, I am the one with the responsabilities.
    You would have been happy, I suppose, if we were put out of business due to useless (for us) regulations. Do you think your box stores’, shipped in, weeks old, gassed produce is better? This is a hard way to make a living but, if done right, is a very satisfing one. I feel sorry for you.
    Everyone I know would rather have fresh locally grown food from farmers who know what is/isn’t on their product. They also know that it costs more to produce on a small farm. They don’t mind paying a little more for it. The tomatoes I just picked will go on my sale table this weekend and will be bought out within an hour by wonderful people who trust my produce. Too bad you aren’t able to have some, you might change your mind.

  • Doc Mudd

    How would cleaning up and assuring safe production practices put you (or anyone) “out of business”, exactly? Not buying that.
    The consumer is expected to simply pay a little more and a little more and a little more for substantially equivalent basic food. No sense in that. Who needs overpriced stuff of dubious safety when plenty enough is so safe, abundant and affordable everywhere you look. No sense at all.

  • lbetts

    what a negative and closed minded man doc mudd is. i feel sorry for his family that has to eat only from big box producers using lots of chemicals to ensure the freshness stays in the produce through the harvest,washing, packaging, transportation, shelving process that is necessary. done any long term research on what those chemicals will do to your children or grandchildren? i am a very small farmer, i do not use anything but mother nature and maybe a little extra water to grow my fruit, i do not chemically alter the seed process so i can produce more(how do you spell corn?)you are probably a fan of frozen apples as well huh doc? my condolences to your family…i hope one day they make it to a small farm, maybe one that they can pick the food themselves,(and wash) as there is a world of difference….sorry for your apparent ignorance.

  • Doc Mudd

    Food is food.
    Not changed by pretending to turn back the clock.
    People pick apples all the time, what’s so flippin’ special about that (unless you gull them by making a big fuss over it and overcharge them for the “experience”)?