I've got a thorn in my side. And I'm gonna be bad and call out another blogger. Scaredhuman. She's been part of a small group who has pushed a misinformation campaign - quite successfully - about Rosa DeLauro's Food Safety Modernization Act (H.R.875). I've got it firsthand from Rosa DeLauro's office that the bill isn't moving (i.e. it won't pass). I don't know WHY they have done this. But they have reached far and wide and their lies are being spread by many as truth. Weren't we supposed to be the reality-based community here??
There are two REAL issues going down that DO deserve our attention. One - real food safety problems (can anyone say "peanut butter"?) and the bill that DOES have a chance of passing, Dingell's bill H.R.759. Two - the National Animal ID System. If you want a reason to panic - a real reason - that's it. It's a bad thing and MANY Democrats support it. And today is the deadline for sending in comments to the USDA. Do so here.
Details below. (P.S. I swear I won't delete this diary, sorry for doing that this weekend - i can explain)
NAIS first, then food safety.
The National Animal ID System is part of an international attempt to get all nations to do something of this sort. The basic idea is: our export markets are super-duper important and so we need to tag every animal and keep them in a database and track all of their movements, and then we can track disease within 48 hours after it happens and stomp it out.
In other words, we aren't doing this for Americans. We are doing this for our export markets. And we're even requiring pet owners (horses, pigs, chickens) to tag their animals and report ALL animal movements (i.e. taking a horse on a trail ride or to a competition) so we can export food to the world. So we can continue to make cheap, shitty, federally subsidized food and then send it all over the world to undercut farmers in other countries by selling those countries' people inferior but cheaper food. NOT GOOD.
Last week the House Ag Committee had a hearing on NAIS and I hate to say it but I sided more with the Republicans who thought this was an invasion of privacy and too costly than with the Democrats who were gung-ho for this.
There are several small farmers who have been vocal about the effect this will have on their farms (like this farm here who produces sustainable goat milk soaps and loves their goats more than most people love their children, or this one featured in an NY Times op ed last week). The NYT article estimates that NAIS will cost her farm $10,000 per year - 10% of her farm's gross receipts.
What's important to remember here is that the majority of farms in the U.S. are small (38.7% are below 50 acres, and another 30% are 50-179 acres) and these farms (mostly) aren't making money. Adding costs and work to their already heavy load will put a lot of them under. At the same time that we are calling for more small farms, the government is promoting a program that will put many of these farms out of business.
I had a great comment left in a recent diary that I'd like to share:
We've lived eons without NAIS.
NAIs requires extensive paper work filled out everytime your animal moves off the farm, even if it is your daughter showing her pony. It also requires ugly tags or markings. Industrial farms have office staffs that can handle this but the small farmer has to add it to an already overpacked and tiring work day.
One plan I had for my farming was to pack up a pair of Royal Palm turkeys in a good sized dog crate and bring them to the farmers market this spring to take orders for turkeys come fall. With NAIS, I'd have to fill out and mail the forms or face serious fines each time I took them to market (not to sell or even get pet -- just to attract passing potential buyers and give the birds an outing which they like) Frankly, I wouldn't do it if required to do the paper work too. And kids would enjoy seeing my birds and my birds would enjoy seeing the kids. And they are beautiful birds. I don't want them wearing ugly tags. And we won't even start to talk about putting a tag on my big thoroughbred horse.
We have trouble with crime too. Why not put tags on all people and require them to fill out forms everytime they leave the house?
Tracking animals is a bad substitute for using sound farming practices.
Proof of the hypocrisy about NAIS came in the form of hearing testimony from the House Ag Committee hearing last week. Most speakers called for mandatory NAIS. The guy from the USDA said that we need to be able to track down animal disease in a way we can't now. His example was bovine tuberculosis:
For example, of the 199 positive cases of bovine tuberculosis identified in the United States between late 2003 and early 2008, over 84 percent of the animals did not have official USDA individual identification. As a result, USDA and State investigative teams spent substantially more time and money in conducting tracebacks, including an expanded scope of an investigation to identify suspect and exposed animals. The average time spent conducting a traceback involving 27 recent bovine tuberculosis investigations was 199 days. This is simply not acceptable.
Yet, guess what? We HAD an animal ID system in place for most of these cases and - surprise! - it didn't work. The R-CALF speaker said:
In its attempt to prevent the introduction of bovine tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis into the U.S. cattle herd from Mexican cattle imports, USDA requires all Mexican cattle imported into the U.S. to be individually identified with a permanent brand or a numbered eartag. However, USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported in 2006 that of the 272 bovine TB cases detected during the previous five years by U.S. slaughter surveillance, 75 percent (205) originated in Mexico, and these cases were detected in 12 U.S. states.
Wait, so the USDA is advocating for something that we already know doesn't work? And - the REALLY big point here - is that if we have limited money and resources to put into food safety (as we do), the best use of our money is definitely prevention, and then testing and inspection. For example, let's look at mad cow:
Prevention: We currently have loopholes in place that will allow for the spread of mad cow. Pigs can eat cows and cows can eat pigs. And downer cows under the age of 30 months can be used in livestock feed, even though mad cow HAS been found in cows under the age of 30 months before.
Testing: We test 0.1% of cows for mad cow. Other countries test many more and Japan tests every cow. And - in case a company wants to export beef to Japan and test every cow in order to do so - we forbid them!!! If we have mad cow in this country, what are the chances we'll find it before it spreads?
So imagine we've got a big database with the ID of every cow in the U.S. and all of their movements. How likely is it - if we are allowing mad cow to potentially spread in livestock feed and we test 0.1% of cows for mad cow - that we would find mad cow before it spreads. And then after the fact, after months or years of mad cow spreading through our country's cattle and beef, we'd be able to find all the sick cows in 48 hours with our fancy, expensive animal ID system?? That's ridiculous. Put your resources into testing the darn animals in the first place and preventing the causes and spread of disease!!!
If you agree with me on this, please take action TODAY.
The rumors I've heard are that H.R. 875 will ban backyard gardening (it won't), it will kill all small farms (it won't) and farmers markets (it won't) and that Monsanto is behind it (it isn't). I was particularly shocked to hear that a farmer at my market who isn't very political got a phone call from some woman who was frantic, telling him all of this stuff.
I'd like to see any bill that passes given an exemption to very small farms, particularly those that don't engage in interstate commerce. I will quote Michael Pollan on this:
The fact is that decentralizing our food system doesn’t guarantee food safety but it does guarantee when there are problems, they will be contained, and they will not go national.
In other words, let's tackle the very big problem that we have right now FIRST - the companies that sell to many states like the peanut corporation in the case of the peanut butter salmonella thing. Because it's these huge national food safety outbreaks that our the biggest problem.
I always say the best check on food safety for small farms is that the farmers eat their own food. If someone is going to get sick, it'll probably be the farmer. That's also a reason why the farmer won't store his food with mold and rat droppings like the Peanut Corporation of America did in this case. If you saw the CEO of PCA before Congress, you know that he refused to eat his own peanuts.
So - H.R.875 isn't perfect - it doesn't distinctly say that small farms who don't sell across state lines are exempt - but it's also NOT GOING TO PASS. H.R.759 is the one that's moving through the Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman's the chairman and he doesn't support splitting the FDA into two halves (food and drugs) which H.R.875 calls for, and that's why that bill isn't going anywhere most likely. So check out H.R.759 - you can find info on both bills here.