Exclusive: Obama’s New Food Act to Seal Sorry State of America’s Farms

July 30, 2009
“We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative. But there are certain things that we can't do on our own. There are certain things that only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat …are safe and don't cause us harm.” – President Barack Obama, March 14, 2009
 
This situation is about to change with the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) which was scheduled for consideration this week under suspension of the standard rules governing congressional legislation. 
 
The Ranking Member of the House Agricultural Committee urged his colleagues not to rush The Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) through Congress. The move to suspend the rules was defeated by two votes.
 
The suspension would mean limited debate of 20 minutes and no opportunity to offer amendments. Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) rang an alarm. He said the proposed legislation is the result of a flawed and incomplete process that would lead to huge regulatory burdens that would force the majority of America’s farmers and ranchers out of business without contributing much, if anything, to the goal of safer food.
 
Though the rules have not been suspended, the legislation, according to Congressman Lucas, is still expected to meet with House approval.
 
But few on Capitol Hill are heeding Congressman Lucas’s warning.
     
As proposed by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, H. R. 2749 will grant the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate all farms and farm produce in an attempt to purge America’s farmland of E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.
     
Under the terms of the bill, crops must be grown in sterile areas, surrounded by 450 foot buffers, so that they are not exposed to other vegetation, runoff water, birds, beasts, or wildlife of any kind.
     
To create such sterile farms, ponds will be poisoned; wetlands drained; and streams re-routed to safeguard the crops from untreated water.
     
Trees will be bulldozed from agricultural corridors to protect the fields from bird droppings.
     
Fields will be lined with poison-filled tubes to kill rodents.
     
All children under five will be prohibited from stepping foot on farmland or tilled soil for fear of leaking diapers.
     
A crow landing in a cornfield will mandate the destruction of the entire corn crop.
     
Sounds crazy but it’s true. Such protocols are already in place throughout California. They were implemented by leading corporate agribusiness to offset the possibility of lawsuits erupting from a new breakout of E coli in supermarkets and food chains.
     
Known as the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, the California protocols set into place by industrial farming concerns have resulted in the destruction of vast tracts of verdant farmland and the end of the line for many family farmers.
     
Dick Peixoto, a California grower, has ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers now demand sterile crops. "I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," Peixoto told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."
     
E. coli O157:H7 first appeared in hamburger meat in the early 1980s and migrated to certain kinds of produce, mainly lettuce and other leafy greens that are cut, mixed and bagged for the convenience of supermarket shoppers. Hundreds of thousands of the bug can fit on the head of a pin; as few as 10 can lodge in a salad and end in lifelong disability, including organ failure.
     
In September 2006 the deadly bug was discovered in Dole bagged spinach that had been processed at Earthbound Farms in San Juan Bautista (San Benito County). The outbreak killed four people, sent 103 to hospitals, and devastated the spinach industry
     
To this day, scientists do not know how the killer E. coli pathogen made its way from the guts of cows to the spinach field in California.
     
In December 2006, new outbreaks of E. coli were traced to Taco Bell restaurants in New Jersey and Long Island, N.Y. Green onions suspected, then lettuce. Thirty-nine people had been hospitalized, some with acute kidney failure.
     
To make matters worse, the scattered cases of E-coli were accompanied by outbreaks of Salmonella Saintpaul, a bacterium that can cause serious and often deadly infections.
     
In June 2008, more than 1,000 people became sickened by salmonella in 41 states. Over two hundred of the victims required hospitalization, and one died. Tomatoes were suspected. Growers were ordered by the Food and Drug Administration to destroy their crops. This order resulted in the abandonment of thousands of farms throughout the country –an order which proved to be unwarranted. The Salmonella Saintpaul was later traced to serrano peppers grown in Mexico.
     
The double whammy of bacteria has resulted in lawsuits that have cost large food retailers over $100 million in court settlements.
     
And the problem has not gone away.
     
In October 2008, salmonella was found in peanut butter that had been manufactured by the Georgia plant of the Peanut Corporation of America plant. Nine people died, and an estimated 22,500 were sickened. Criminal negligence was alleged after the product tested positive and was shipped.
     
In June 2009, E. coli was found in Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough that came from a facility in Danville, Virginia. Seventy-two people in 30 states were sickened. The incident resulted in the recall of 3.6 million packages of cookies. No traces of the bacteria have been detected on the equipment or the workers in Danville. Investigators are currently looking at the flour and the other ingredients.
     
Large agribusiness concerns and the major food retailers, wanting to ward off future outbreaks and lawsuits, set forth the draconian measures for the sterilization of farms. These measures were incorporated by Rep. Waxman and his committee in the formation of the Food Safety Enhancement Act.
     
If passed, the Act will grant the FDA the authority to regulate how crops are raised and harvested; to quarantine a geographic area; to make warrant-less searches of business records; and to establish a national food tracing system. It will impose annual registration fees of $500 on all facilities holding, processing, or manufacturing food. Farmers who fail to comply with the new regulations will be subjected to fines and criminal prosecution.
     
Edward Hopkins, a master farmer in Northeastern Pennsylvania for 73 years, says that the new law will put him out of business. “My fields are not big enough to create the necessary buffers,” he says.
     
Mr. Hopkins maintains that the legislation will result in a sharp price increase so that only the wealthy will be able to afford fresh produce. “The poor and the middle class,” he contends, “will have to rely on food that is processed, canned, frozen, or vegetables that come from their own gardens.”
     
“The law will require me to shoot an American Eagle if it flies over my fields,” Mr. Hopkins adds.
     
Similar concerns have been raised by other farmers. "There's been a battle cry in North Carolina that the FDA is coming onto the farm," Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., told the press.
    
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees most farms, but, at present, regulates only meat, poultry and egg safety. The new law would extend the agency’s oversight to all produce.
     
"Sanitizing American agriculture, aside from being impossible, is foolhardy," said University of California food guru Michael Pollan, who most recently made his case for smaller-scale farming in the documentary film "Food, Inc." "You have to think about what's the logical end point of looking at food this way. It's food grown indoors hydroponically."
     
Several scientists suggest that many of the protocols in the new legislation – such as the removing vegetation near field crops –could make food less safe. Vegetation and wetlands are a landscape's lungs and kidneys, filtering out not just fertilizers, sediments and pesticides, but also pathogens. Researchers from the University of California found that vegetation buffers can remove as much as 98 percent of E. coli from surface water. They also warn that rodents often prefer cleared areas for their picnics.
     
“It's all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there," said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.
     
This statement is supported by a study - released in April by the U.S. Department of Agriculture –which found that less than one-half of 1 percent of 866 wild animals tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 in Central California.
     
Frogs are unrelated to E. coli, but their remains in bags of mechanically harvested greens are unsightly, Dr. Gordus said, so "the industry has been using food safety as a premise to eliminate frogs."
     
Under the new legislation, frogs and farmers will meet the same fate.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Paul L. Williams is the author of The Day of Islam: The Annihilation of America and the Western World, The Al Qaeda Connection, and other best-selling books. He is a frequent guest on such national news networks as ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR. Visit his website at http://thelastcrusade.org.
 
 

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