I buy milk, eggs, bacon, beef, chicken, pecans and honey from local farmers here in Cowley County. Every summer I look forward to shopping at Winfield's farmer's market for produce I'm not already growing myself. I know the items I am buying - most of which are grown without the use of pesticides or growth hormones - are good quality. I know because I ask. And I want to be able to continue buying locally grown products like these and more as they become available.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the food safety bill that was going through Congress. Language in the bill that would allow the FDA to scrutinize health supplement companies (as if they were prescription drugs, which they are not) and penalize any offenders with ten year prison sentences has been removed from the bill. But, it's still a dangerous piece of legislation.
Why? Because the food safety bill is being backed by about 30 of the biggest corporate food producers who want to squash their competition - the small farms who sell their products either at their own farms or at our local farmer's markets.
"These organizations (and the companies that are their members) believe that even the smallest food sellers, like mom-and-pop roadside stands, should face the same regulatory hurdles as their own industrial-scale processed food operations," says the Alliance for Natural Health, a watchdog organization who monitors what the government is doing regarding food and supplement issues. "Big Food is essentially trying to use the government to quash competition from small family and organic farms."
The plan is for the Food and Drug Administration to hire 5,000 additional employees (at a cost of $1.5 billion according to Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan.) so they can more closely inspect every food producer out there.
Big companies love this because it means the FDA will be so busy monitoring small and organic (there are 80 certified organic farms in Kansas) farms that it will take attention away from big corporations, says the ANH. Small farms will be hampered even further by more red tape and paperwork. And, if an FDA agent finds the farmer hasn't crossed all their Ts and dotted all their Is, or whatever excuse they find, their product can be confiscated on the spot.
I've been reading Anthony Bourdain's latest book, Medium Raw. By now most of you probably know the loud-mouthed and somewhat cynical Bourdain from his adventurous foodie show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. I'm only halfway into the book, but so far Bourdain has spent several chapters talking about the food industry and it's sick practices, from treating meat patty scraps with bacteria-killing chemicals to McDonald's molester-like attraction to little kids. In the midst of his ravings against big food producer, Cargill, he also gives an approving nod to Arkansas City's Creekstone Farms.
Here's a bit of what Bourdain has to say about Cargill:
"...I read in the New York Times that, as standard practice, when making their "American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties," the food giant Cargill's recipe for hamburger consisted of, among other things, "a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps" and that "the ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria..."
Yum. And you know this is what your kids are eating at their school lunch today, right?
Bourdain goes on to say..."In another telling anomaly of the meat-grinding business, many of the larger slaughterhouses will sell their product only to grinders who agree to not test their product for E. coli contamination - until after it's run through the grinder with a whole bunch of other meat from other sources."
I'm pretty sure the farmer who raises the beef I buy and the locker that processes the meat is clean enough that it does not need to use ammonia IN the beef. But this is my point. It is the larger producers who don't care what goes into the food you and I eat. And just ask Creekstone Farms about their battle for the right to test the cattle coming through its doors.
The food safety bill has been squeezed into a larger package of bills going before Congress as we speak. When I called Senator Pat Roberts' office yesterday to tell them I was against the food safety bill I was told the Senator and his office had 72 hours to go through thousands of pages that make up this huge omnibus bill. Pressure like this is another way bad bills get passed.
When the bill originally was put up for a vote Sen. Roberts and Senator Sam Brownback both voted against it. I sure hope for our sakes they stick to their guns and that there is enough opposition in other states to shoot this bill down for good.
Wherever you live, please consider giving your senators a call today. In Kansas those numbers are: Republicans Sam Brownback, (202) 224-6521 and Pat Roberts, (202) 224-4774. Or call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your senators.