You, you sniveling worms, with your relentless insistence on safety, absence of risk, and your belief that if the government only had more power, over everything, somehow you would not die.
Well you are going to die, and you deserve it, because you elected a government that drafts bills like the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, or as Radley Balko called it via twitter, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of Food.
Currently before the House Committees on Agriculture, and Energy and Commerce, the FSMA is drafted with the noble goal of seeing to it that Americans do not die of salmonella poisoning as a result of the ghastly diet that most Americans consume: things like processed peanuts rendered down into a flavorless paste and slapped between crackers at industrial food processing plants, or Mexican jalapeno peppers stewed into the unappetizing gel that most Americans think of as salsa. That's the intent anyway. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, on which we've written but which Walter Olson and others have covered much more effectively, was drafted with the intention that no American children die of lead poisoning. The havoc it's wreaking on thrift stores, handmade toy makers, and smallscale clothing producers is merely an unintended byproduct of all the good that the CPSIA does.
Well, when the CPSIA was passed, no one was minding the store. Only Ron Paul and a few other cranks raised a complaint. Apparently on this bill, only a few blogging cranks are minding the store. I'll barely add to the number of cranks, but the FSMA has not yet passed, so there's time to prevent the damage. The Food Safety Modernization Act, as currently drafted, will ruin most of the farmer's markets in America.
Without going into a detailed textual analysis (click the link above), the FSMA requires all "food establishments," which means anyone selling or storing food of any type for transmission to third parties via the act of commerce, to register with a new Food Safety Administration, to keep copious records of sales and shipment by lot and label, to subject themselves to at least annual inspections by FSA inspectors, and to provide detailed handling instructions for safe processing of food. That may work for Nabisco and the people who supply McDonald's, but it's probably not going to work at, for instance, the farmer's market I visit without fail every weekend beginning in late March. The place is infested with hippies and rustic sorts who couldn't fill out a spreadsheet and can't afford legal advice on how to farm, but know a thing or two about growing good peppers.
Nor will the more detailed recordkeeping and lab testing requirements, and the monthly inspections, to be required of farmers' markets which offer delicacies such as bacon or cheese, both of which I purchase at my own farmers' market because I trust the farmers involved, and because I won't give up absolutely fresh tomatoes even if I'm not assured they were audited by the government.
It's also unlikely to work for importers of certain delicacy foods which aren't made in America (the bill requires food makers overseas to adhere to bacterial testing standards equal to those mandated by the FSA) such as mortadella ham and certain cheeses. Those may no longer be imported.
As the CPSIA illustrates, the problem with "one size fits all" regulation of business activity at the federal level is that one size, in fact, doesn't fit all. Lead paint testing requirements, which are just a cost to be passed on to millions of customers by a Mattel or GAPKids who see little increase in price per unit because they test in bulk, simply kill small, artisan toymakers or small-lot clothing producers. The mandates of the FSMA likewise will cause little trouble to Hormel, but may be onerous indeed to the smallscale family farmer in Louisburg North Carolina from whom I buy sausage on saturday mornings. Even though the small farmer's operation is cleaner than a factory slaughterhouse, and even though his pigs live in far healthier conditions than those from a factory farm. (I know because I've visited them.)
This bill can be fixed, and it should be. We're currently undergoing a media frenzy on contaminated food, just as in 2007 we did with stories of lead paint, but farmers, even small farmers, are much better connected and have broader support than thrift stores or small crafts businesses. If you enjoy fresh food from farmers' markets, and don't want to eat processed glop from Big Food at every meal, contact your congressman, particularly if you live in an agricultural district, and ask about this bill. Encourage lawmakers to consider the effect this will have on family farms and farmers' markets, and to ask themselves whether we need yet another federal food agency.
Do it for the tomatoes.