(FinalCall.com) – After two years of debates, lobbying, and campaigning by supporters and critics of $1.4 billion legislation that would create greater regulations around food safety, the Food Safety Modernization Act has stalled because of an error in the Senate.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), introduced S.510 as part of a national strategy to better protect food by authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to increase inspections at food processing facilities and order mandatory recalls of contaminated foods.It would also set standards for imported foods.
The bill already passed in the House, and it overwhelmingly passed the Senate with a 73-25 vote on Nov. 30, but that’s as far as it will go for now, until the House and Senate correct the issue of fees that might be considered taxes. By law,all taxes must originate in the House of Representatives, but the bill stems from the Senate.
“It’s sort of dead in the water and it cannot be enacted so I think the effort needs to be made for people to contact their congressional representative and tell them that we don’t like this bill,” said Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, minister of Health and Human Services for the Nation of Islam.
While he has not combed every aspect of the bill, Dr. Alim Muhammad said what he hasread was disturbing.
“There is other language in the bill that gives the FDA authority to investigate ‘where they have reason to believe there is a problem.’There doesn’t have to be any proof.There doesn’t have to be any inspection … the language is so ambiguous,” Dr. Alim Muhammad said.
Dr. Alim Muhammad, who is an advocate for consuming raw milk, believes the ambiguous language could mean problems for some products.
Because the FDA’s general opinion is raw milk is dangerous, the bill could allow federal inspectors to shut down raw milk dairy farmers based on a perceived threat to public health, he said.
Dr. Alim Muhammad pointed to the FDA’s June 30, 2010 raid of Rawesome Foods, a raw foods cooperative in Venice, Calif., as a sign of what people could face under the bill. Some of the farm’s raw milk products were seized because federal authorities felt the products were unsafe, he explained. But those who consume raw milk do not believe the product is harmful, Dr. Alim Muhammad said.
According to the L.A. Times, federal, state, and local investigators seized raw goat and cow milk, unpasteurized goat cheese, and other groceries to protect consumers from E.coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria found in unpasteurized foods. Authorities also said the cooperative did not have the necessary permit to operate.
The food safety bill’s advocates, like Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now!, a national sustainable agriculture group, argue the proposed legislation is the way to provide safer foods and control facilities that violate laws.
Outcry over the bill is legitimate because of past food legislation and unintended consequences that harmed individuals, but S.510 really grew out of the need to give the FDA more teeth to help prevent food contamination, he maintained.
Despite widespread concern over the rights of individuals, Mr. Murphy said there is nothing in the law that prohibits people from growing their own food or having gardens. The FDA won’t even have inspection authority of anyone’s backyard garden, he said. The Tester Amendment, which was added to the bill, would in part exempt farmers that earn $500,000 or less annually, or producers that sell to consumers inside a 275-mile radius from their operation, he said.
According to Attorney Michele Simon, a research and policy director for the Marin Institute and author of “Appetite for Profit–How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back,” the food safety bill is complicated partly because of the support and opposition it has received. Segments of the food industry are on both sides of the bill as are food advocates and those who want to protect gardeners and the individual right to grow food.
Some think the law “provides uniformity and has certain compromises, but the larger agribusiness players, maybe not so much … politics has kept any improvement in our food safety system from happening for decades, but what seems to be happening now is really more political in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats or Republicans’ spite about not wanting Obama to get another win, than the usual corporate obstruction,” Atty. Simon added.
Many worry that the bill will make it illegal for farmers to save their seeds, according to Dr. Ridgely Muhammad, manager of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Farms. If so, that is draconian because that’s the basis for farming he said.Otherwise, farmers are forced to buy their seeds from the U.S.-based multinational biotech company Monsanto and others that patent genetically-modified seeds, he said.
“It’s basic common sense. If it’s for food safety, why are they trying to control farmers retaining their seeds, because one thing you know, that seed isn’t poisonous.If it’s about food safety, why would you not want non-genetically modified farmers to continue that line when you know it’s clean?” he asked.
Dr. Ridgely Muhammad told The Final Call that there are already laws on the books to regulate food facilities and prevent contamination, but they do little when corporations are big enough, wealthy enough, and have enough political influence to get those responsible for regulation to look the other way.
For example, he said, in the case of the peanut processing plant in Georgia shut down for knowingly selling products tainted with salmonella, inspectors had not visited the plant in about five years.
“They (inspectors) can be paid off … laws are put on the books to control who those in political power want to control and to let through their buddies … so any laws on the books will be discriminatory in their application, and they’re always dangerous for the weak, because all programs have to be implemented by local programs based on their own interpretations,” Dr. Ridgely Muhammad said.
“It’s just a question of how long people want to keep their heads in the sand because their bellies are full,” he said.
Dr. Alim Muhammad believes the will of the people can still be heard, but they have to realize that there really is a war and it’s all about food.
“I think, though, that the way in which it actually gets handled best is through people understanding they are responsible to produce their own food more and more,” he said. The lack of real food is what accounts for health disparities in the Black community, states Dr. Alim Muhammad. Instead, what corporations put out is devitalized food products aimed at long shelf lives and not sustaining physical life, he said.