SF Underground Market

mea culpa

So some new information has come to light since I sent that email about SB510. The food safety and modernization act: 1. I got it wrong. Yesterday I emailed people about speaking out about this bill, since I felt it could endanger the underground food movement by hurting small producers.    Turns out the bill already passed in the House last Monday, a week before I sent the email....a bit embarrassing to be sure.  The articles I was reading did not give a date, and for some reason I got it into my mind that it was this Monday. Feeling a sense of urgency, I sent an email without realizing that it already passed, as well as not knowing the finer points of the bill, whoops, my apologies.

2.  Another fact I failed to realize is that the bill had been very much improved with the addition of the Tester-Hagan amendment.  With Tester-Hagan, local growers and sellers are given a pass on some of the more onerous measures of the bill.  It exempts food producers making less than $500,000/year, those that sell directly to consumers, and to customers within 275 miles of their farm.  It also exempts producers that are already inspected by a local government agency (such as the health department).

This makes the bill less dangerous than it previously would have been. I wonder if this could actually encourage the local food movement.  If a farm can save money by selling locally (by being exempt, avoiding paperwork etc.) it may entice more farmers to focus their sales in their communities.

The more I read about this bill the less sure I am about any position. It seems people fall into two camps:

One believes this bill signals the end of small food production as we know it.  By placing undue burden on small producers in the form of extra paperwork and record keeping, the cost of which large scale producers can more readily absorb. This camp sees the bill as an Orwellian overhaul of the way we relate to food, criminalizing even the simple act of giving backyard veggies to your neighbor. They imagine hoards of FDA swat teams knocking down the doors of every small farmer in the county that doesn't file the necessary paperwork.

The second camp thinks this bill won't  change much of anything.  Although it does give the FDA more power, and require more regular inspections of facilities (up to once every 5 years from once every 10), it doesn't give them the necessary budget to do much more than that. As mentioned above, there are also provisions in the bill that exempt any small producer that is already inspected by a local agency, which means just about everyone who is producing food locally would be exempt.   It does seem to give the FDA new powers to track and inspect food facilities, and to force food recalls (which is great, given at the moment all they can do is suggest a recall).  What it means for producers such as me and the other vendors at the Underground Market, I don't really know.  At the moment we seem to be experiencing (at least locally), a thaw on the puritanical idea that food produced at home is totally unsafe.  People are beginning to realize that not every jar of jam made outside a stainless steel clad facility is dangerous. I would like to see that continue and grow.  We can only hope that the new regulations achieve their stated purpose of making our food safer, rather than being yet another weapon for big business to use against  local food.