Food Safety Under Scrutiny

by Eileen Weber, guest writer and staff writer for CT GreenScene

Chances are, you came to this site looking for food that’s local, fresh, and organic. You are not alone. Many people have begun to make the connection between fresh food and good health.

But good health may be a bit lacking when your food is contaminated. Recently, we have heard about contaminated spinach, tomatoes, and even peanut butter. Whether it’s salmonella, E.coli, listeria, or a host of other bacteria, your family may be sitting down to enjoy a health hazard rather than a healthy meal.

In the last several weeks, an initiative to regulate the food industry has been part of a heated debate. Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has put forth the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, or H.R. 875 as it’s commonly known.

The bill seeks to break the Food and Drug Administration into two separate bodies, one that focuses on food and one that focuses on drugs. It will require food companies to meet certain stipulations for contaminants in the food they sell. It will also offer a system of certifying imports from foreign countries. Stricter food inspections, mandatory recalls, and civil penalties for violations against the bill will be enforced.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast, say many organic farmers and those who support the organic farming industry. Many see it as just one more time big government is sticking it to the little guy. Linn Cohen Cole, a writer and activist from Atlanta, penned a March 3rd reaction to the bill on the web site OpEdNews.

“Farmers produce something of real value,” said Cohen Cole “and from that base, businesses grow up. Local markets, local food processors, local seed companies, local tool and supply companies, local stores and an economy based on reality and something truly good for us, too, begins to grow…And it is all those things that threaten the corporations, which is why we now have these massive ‘fake food safety’ bills in Congress.”

Her article was read aloud on YouTube along with a number of other video segments against the bill. One of the biggest complaints is the benefit there would be to large corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, Tysons, and ADM.

Monsanto, for example, manufactures herbicides and genetically modified seed. The fear is that an organic farm might be considered “unsafe” without the use of herbicides. This puts the little guy out of business while the big guy makes money off it.

But according to an April 9th article in the Hartford Courant, the bill “doesn’t regulate home gardens and makes no mention of organic farming.” The article points out that, while there has been a flurry of upset over DeLauro’s initiative, she has refuted those claims on her web site as “hyperbole and paranoia.”

There has also been criticism of DeLauro because her husband, Stanley Greenberg, has ties to Monsanto. However, those ties are weak at best. Monsanto was a former client of Greenberg, founder and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a polling and consulting firm, not a current one.

A recent Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFA) newsletter supported the fact that the bill does not target organic farms and gardens. “There is no Monsanto connection to H.R. 875,” it stated in the e-newsletter, “and Rep. Rosa DeLauro has clarified that gardeners and Direct marketers-to Farmers Markets, CSAs, roadside stands, local restaurants, etc-are completely exempt under her bill.”

Organic Bytes, the e-newsletter of the Organic Consumers Association, mirrored that sentiment. They found “misleading headlines” with the anti-H.R. 875 stand point. “Even if this bill were passed as is today,” it was stated in the newsletter, “it wouldn’t criminalize organic farming. The bill would require farms to have a food safety plan, allow their records to be inspected, and comply with food safety regulations. To say this is tantamount to criminalization doesn’t give organic farmers enough credit.”

Regardless of the position taken on either side, food safety is a concern for every family. It is clear that we need an initiative that weeds out the bad and supports the good. The problem comes when the version of what’s good doesn’t necessarily mesh with what’s right.

EILEEN WEBER has been a freelance writer for the last few years. She has a master’s degree in journalism and a professional background in publishing. She has written numerous articles for magazines, newspapers, newsletters and web sites including CT GreenScene. She lives in Fairfield with her husband, three daughters, two dogs and whole lot of chaos.

When time allows, she writes her own blog about food and, occasionally, a little wine (which she wouldn’t mind having a glass of right now). If she’s lucky, Eileen lands a gig here and there doing voice-overs for commercials.

Eileen also spends a good deal of time volunteering. For the last two years, she has run an antique appraisal fundraiser and planned other events, all for charity. Last year, she was the President of the Welcome Club of Fairfield and Easton and is still a current member on the executive board. Very recently, she was part of a group of people from three local churches who helped raise money for an impoverished school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Apparently, Eileen lacks the self-awareness to realize how green she is. Writing for CT GreenScene has definitely opened her eyes. Not surprisingly, Eileen is also a late bloomer.

The Weber crew loves to travel, especially to Europe to visit family. Eileen loves to cook and entertain. So the next time you find yourself in Fairfield, hungry and a tad lonely, stop by.

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