Pallin’ Around with Monsanto

Apr 20 2009 Published by under U.S. Supreme Court

Are the Food Police really coming to dig up your organic garden?

There’s an email going around spreading fear into the hearts of home gardeners across America…People who love to garden or finally resorted to gardening to avoid food poising from our less-than regulated food supply courtesy of the under-staffed Bush FDA are now terrified that the Food Police are coming to our backyards to dig up our heirloom tomatoes and force us to eat hormone-injected, dyed-red tomatoes that taste like plastic.

Now, I don’t know about you, but these days when I hear fear-mongering like that, I immediately think: Republican agenda. After all, this is their modus operandi. By Republican agenda, I mean NeoCons, Big Business, and basically anyone who uses Republican tactics to successfully bring about better legislation for corporate interests.

So, I’m suspicious. I’ve been burned enough by their whisper campaigns to now question everything I hear. And I mean, if a Republican (or “moderate” as they now call themselves, in yet another effort to co-opt our language and win the war on Truth, but I digress) told me the sky was blue, I’d look up to check the color of the sky. After 8 years or more of their Ministry of Truthiness, one could say I’ve finally learned.

Another clue that I needed to investigate was that it made no sense. Under this administration and with a Democrat sponsoring the bill, suddenly organic gardening was going to be attacked? The science deniers of the Bush administration scoffed at “organic”; they’ve been selling us plastic formaldehyde as baby food for as long as they could rebrand crap. If anyone were going to go after small farmers and organic gardeners, it only makes sense that it would be the Big Agriculture/Big Business party!

So, I did a little research on H.R. 875 and it appears these bills are not intended to threaten organic food or home gardening at all; Furthermore, the sponsor of the bill has quite a solid reputation of supporting farmers. No, indeed, this bill actually came about in response to the many serious instances of food contamination lately; such as the Peanut Scare, the Tomato Scare, the Spinach Scare, etc — i.e., Bush’s War on Food.

The main purpose of the H.R. 875 is to create a Food Safety Administration (FSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health. Now, I’m no FDA policy expert and I’m not going to argue for the necessity of this bill, but I do concur that something needs to be done about our food safety. I’d start off with staffing and funding the notoriously under-funded Bush FDA so that they could perform actual inspections of food plants as my first order of business (cough, cough). But, I’m willing to bet that the Obama administration will be pragmatic in their reorganization of the failed Bush FDA. After all, you have to like government and believe in its efficacy to some degree in order to manage it well.

In an attempt to smear this bill, it has been suggested that this bill makes it “illegal to grow your own garden”. Unless you plan on selling your produce across states lines, Snopes assures us that you don’t need to worry about the Food Police coming to shut down your backyard garden (whew). Some folks are objecting to the term “food production facility”, and interpreting that to mean that their home vegetable garden would be considered a farm, ranch or orchard. That seems like a stretch, no? We do know that one person isn’t worried about it, and that is First Lady Michelle Obama, who recently planted an organic garden at the White House, much to the displeasure of pesticide companies around America, who vociferously voiced their outrage at her unwillingness to poison her garden.

Another smear put forth is that Rep DeLauro (D-Conn), who is sponsoring the bill, has ties to big agricultural company Monsanto. This smear uses the inference that because Monsanto was a client of the firm where Rep DeLauro’s husband was employed as a CEO ten years ago, she’s “Pallin’ around with Monsanto”; in other words, implied guilt by association. According to Snopes, her husband’s company hasn’t had any connection to Monsanto for over a decade.

From the Snopes link, there’s a link to further discussion of how these bills could be misused and impact small farmers negatively as well, which is an important debate — but the intent of the bill is to help regulate our food supply, not to make it “illegal to grow your own garden”. This might be a good time to mention that organic farming is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under its “National Organic Program,” not the FDA.

Furthermore, the bill is supported by several Members of Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving farmers markets, organic farming, and locally grown foods. H.R. 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups:

— Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
— Center for Science in the Public Interest
— Consumer Federation of America
— Consumers Union
— Food & Water Watch
— The Pew Charitable Trusts
— Safe Tables Our Priority
— Trust for America’s Health

Representative DeLauro responded to the seeming internet hysteria over her bill with this statement:

“”The intent of the bill is to focus on the large, industrial processes such as the peanut processing plant in Georgia that was responsible for the salmonella outbreak that killed nine people,” she says. She emphasizes that the Constitution’s commerce clause prevents the federal government from regulating commerce that doesn’t cross state lines. DeLauro says she’s open to making technical changes to the bill if any small farmers remain concerned that the bill is aimed at them. Currently, 15 separate federal agencies are involved in regulating food safety and there is no system in place to get to the source of an outbreak once it happens. We still don’t know what contaminated the tomatoes leading to a previous salmonella outbreak, one which was originally blamed on spinach — to the great detriment of spinach growers. DeLauro’s bill would put one agency in charge and try to organize the chaos that is the current system.

“This notion that we’re destroying backyard farms is absurd. It’s ludicrous,” she says. “I chair the agriculture subcommittee of appropriations. Why would I be putting farmers out of business?””

As someone who eats organic food and grows my own garden, I support organic gardening. I also support getting the facts from the source. Could the bill be worded better? Yes. Apparently DeLauro is currently revising her bill’s language in order to clarify the intent. But the concerted efforts to smear this bill make me suspicious. Who loses out if our food is more closely monitored? Organic gardeners or Big Ag?

DeLauro has put forth that she believes the viral smear campaign originated from Libertarians, others have surmised it is coming from NICFA whose mission statement is “to promote and preserve unregulated direct farmer-to-consumer trade” and “oppose any government funded or managed National Animal Identification System. Did you catch the “unregulated” part? Hmmm….

I’m open to hearing other factually based points of view regarding this bill, but it just doesn’t make sense to me right now that Rep DeLauro would want to hurt home-based organic gardeners. And the words “unregulated” strike fear into my “Free Market/deregulation” burned brain (I’ve just peeked at my Roth IRA, how about you?).

“Pallin around with Monsanto”, you say? Gee, why don’t I believe you?

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