Local Food Rules!

It really has been two months since I last posted on this particular blog.   I have not been idle and to prove that point I am posting below the full text of my testimony before the Maine Legislative Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on the local food sovereignty bill.  I gave that testimony on April 2nd.   On the 23rd of this month we will be testifying before that same committee on LD 718 a bill that will force the labeling of foods containing more that 0.9% GMO ingredients.   But here, in lieu of a post I need to write about GMO matters before the Supreme Court, is my personal testimony on LD 475:

 

“Good afternoon Senator Jackson, Representative Dill and members of the committee, including the representative for my home district Representative Jones and the sponsor of this bill Representative Hickman, who happens to represent my best friend’s home district.

 

My name is Betsy Garrold; I live and farm in Knox.   I work part-time in the produce department at the Belfast Food Co-op.  I am also the Board President of Food for Maine’s Future an organization that has been at the forefront of the movement for local food sovereignty.  I am here today to speak in favor of the development of this proposed bill LD 475, An Act To Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities.

 

It is important, as we all know, to keep the local food economy healthy by supporting the production, distribution and consumption of wholesome Maine food.   A vibrant local food system is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.   It is a good thing for many reasons: it creates jobs, provides healthy fresh food, and keeps the money circulating in the local economy but I am here to contend that the most vital reason for eating local food is safety and security.

 

We can trust our local farmers, more than Wal-Mart or any other mega food distributor, to care about the food they provide, to take pride in it and most importantly to care about whether we get sick from eating it.   When the farmer is handing you a bag of produce, meat, or dairy products each week at the CSA pick up they know they are going to be seeing you again soon.   They will see you and your family at the local store, at town meetings or at church.   They are not going to hand you a bag of salmonella or E. coli contaminated food.   Because the social contract of a small community would not stand for them doing so and also because they are not schmucks.   They care about you as a customer, a neighbor, a friend.

 

When I researched food borne illnesses for this testimony I found that of the top 15 deadliest outbreaks only one was linked back to a small-time local butcher.   That was in 2005 in Wales.   The rest were all tied to large food processing operations.   Faceless corporations that you will never meet at the local gas station or see in your next Grange meeting.

 

In January of this year the FDA proposed new rules designed, they say, to further enhance the safety of the food supply in this country. One rule requires “science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms.” It addresses a variety of possible routes of food contamination including the manure used as fertilizer, water sprayed on crops, animals in the fields, whether workers wash their hands and how packing houses process foods.  The other rule sets out guidelines for “preventive controls for human food” and would require companies to have plans for food borne illnesses.  Can I just say both of these rules sound an awful lot like the fox guarding the hen-house to me?   But that is beside the point.   I have always felt that most FDA and USDA food safety inspection rules were window dressing.   Designed, like Homeland Security color coded threat alerts, to give us a false sense of safety and security.   The bureaucrats realize that making the food system totally safe is impossible.   Their job is to keep commerce humming and lull the populace into believing that the food we eat has been carefully vetted for any contamination.   Again foxes and hen houses.

 

Even if a corporation was found to be selling contaminated food what is the penalty?  In 2011 when there was an outbreak of deadly Listeria tied to cantaloupes grown on Jensen Farms, a very large fruit producer, a news article about the case against them stated,  “charges might be brought under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act for the adulteration of food. Under the Act, knowingly selling adulterated food is a felony. But doing so without knowledge or intent to defraud consumers is a misdemeanor, penalized by up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.”   Well, you can’t put a corporation in jail and $1000 is chump change to these large producers.   They write it off as a cost of doing business.

 

 

There was one hopeful aspect of the new FDA rules, however.  An official was quoted as saying at the time of the release of the new rules “we have a clear direction from Congress to collaborate with state agencies so we expect much of the oversight to come at the state and local level.”   And so we ask the state of Maine to take this opportunity to recognize the authority of municipalities to govern their own food system.   I am asking the legislature to make the Maine food system the safest in the world by staying out of the way of farmers selling their safe, healthy, local food directly to their neighbors.”

 

After I finished my testimony one of the legislators (I believe it was Rep. Dill) asked me what I considered “local”  I replied that as a locavore I try to eat a “100 mile diet” and explained that concept to him.  It was not a great answer but fortunately Bob St. Peter spoke later and explained that within the concept of this proposed bill “local” would be defined as within the municipality that had passed the ordinance.

It was all very exciting and then we all went to a cocktail party for legislators sponsored by MOFGA so that we could show them excerpts from the movie “The Future of Food”  and scyped with Deborah Koons Garcia the producer of the documentary.   A long day and one that gave me great appreciation for the stamina of our legislators and even for the lobbyists.

 

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by john newman on April 18, 2013 at 5:24 AM

    Im not sure you are all aware of a movement in europe regarding monsanto so I though I would post my email below, apologises if you find it offensive that I have done this but I think it pertinent to the cause!!
    john

    Dear Avaazers,

    One mega-company is gradually taking over our food supply — putting the planet’s food future in serious danger. But we can turn the tide on Monsanto and other companies that push through policies that prioritise their profits over the public good. Pledge £4 now to help stop this dangerous domination of our politics and our food:

    One mega-company is gradually taking over our global food supply, poisoning our politics and putting the planet’s food future in serious danger. To stop it we need to expose and break up Monsanto’s worldwide grip.

    Monsanto, the chemical giant that gave us poisons like Agent Orange and DDT, has a super-profitable racket. Step 1: Develop pesticides and genetically modified (GM) seeds designed to resist them, patent the seeds, prohibit farmers from replanting their seeds year to year, then send undercover agents out to investigate and sue farmers who don’t comply. Step 2: Spend millions lobbying government officials and contributing to political campaigns, get former Monsanto bigwigs into top government jobs, and then work with them to weaken regulations and push Monsanto goods into markets across the world.

    As long as US law allows corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence policy, they can often buy the laws they want. Last year, Monsanto and biotech giants spent a whopping $45m to kill a ballot initiative that would have labelled GMO products just in California, despite 82 percent of Americans wanting to know if they are buying GM. And just this month, the company helped ram through the “Monsanto Protection Act,” that blocks courts from stopping the sale of a product even if they’ve been wrongly approved by the government.

    Monsanto’s power in the US gives them a launch pad to dominate across the world. But brave farmers and activists from the EU, to Brazil, to India and Canada are resisting and starting to win.

    We’re at a global tipping point. If enough of us pledge just £4 now, we can join forces to break Monsanto’s grip on our politics and our food and help stop the corporate capture of our governments. Avaaz will only process the pledges if we get enough to make a real difference:

    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_monsanto_nd1/?bTDFdbb&v=24245

    Monsanto is driving an industrial farming takeover — trampling small farmers and small businesses as vast ‘monoculture’ farms of single crops leech the land of nutrients, diminish genetic diversity, and create dependency on fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. The irony is, it’s not clear that the decimation of natural, sustainable farming has brought any boom in crop yields. Just more profit for the corporations. Our governments should step in, but Monsanto’s lobbying obstructs them.

    Monsanto’s near monopoly is breath-taking, with patent rights over 96% of the GM seeds planted in the US. And despite concerns about health and safety, the same patents allow Monsanto to prevent any farmer or scientist from testing their seeds! Still, a few countries have banned or restricted Monsanto products.

    They claim their products cost less, but often farmers are lured into multi-year contracts, then seed prices rise, and they have buy new seed each season and use more herbicides to keep out ‘superweeds’. In India, the situation is so dire that one cotton area has been called ‘the suicide belt’, as tens of thousands of the poorest farmers have taken their lives to escape crippling debt.

    But farmers and scientists are also fighting back — and winning. One group in India has helped win three patent battles against the corporations, and in Brazil five million farmers sued Monsanto for unfair collection of royalties, and won a $2 billion payout! Scientists are campaigning for sustainable agriculture models, and just last week 1.5 million of us joined the fight against conventional patents in the EU.

    Only a massive, global, united force can stand up to Monsanto and the corporate capture of our governments. Let’s expose this dominance of our democracies, help farmers speak out, challenge unjust laws and patents, and go head to head with the corporate lobbies. Pledge £4 to support action now:

    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_monsanto_nd1/?bTDFdbb&v=24245

    We are running out of time. As we confront massive environmental, climate and food crises, we need sustainable agriculture and innovation, but that is best done by multiple farmers and scientists who know what works best in different ecosystems, rather than one monolith driven by their own profit, taking control our food future.

    This corporate Goliath is increasing in power across our world. But if our 21 million strong community stands together, we have a chance. Avaaz members have repeatedly stood up against the world’s biggest bullies, and won. Now it is time for us to go big to save our policies from special interests, protect our food supply, and get justice for poor farmers.

    With hope and determination,

    Alice, Oli, Joseph, Ricken, Pascal, Chris, Michelle, Emily, and the whole Avaaz team

    MORE INFORMATION

    Seeds of discontent (Texas Observer):
    http://www.texasobserver.org/seeds-of-discontent/

    Monsanto sued small farmers to protect seed patents, report says (The Guardian):
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents

    Political contribution discloslures (Monsanto):
    http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/Pages/political-disclosures.aspx

    The Real Monsanto Protection Act: How The GMO Giant Corrupts Regulators And Consolidates Its Power (ThinkProgress):
    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/10/1832621/monsanto-protection-act-power/

    Monsanto Protection Act put GM companies above the federal courts (The Guardian):
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/apr/04/monsanto-protection-act-gm

    Biodiversity for food and agriculture (UN Food and Agriculture Organization):
    http://www.fao.org/sd/EPdirect/EPre0040.htm

    Monsanto’s harvest of fear (Vanity Fair):
    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

    Wikileaks shows US pushes GM on EU (The Guardian):
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/03/wikileaks-us-eu-gm-crops

    USDA Greenlights Monsanto’s Utterly Useless New GMO Corn (Mother Jones):
    http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/01/monsanto-gmo-drought-tolerant-corn

    Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research (New York Times):
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html?_r=0

    Additional sources (Avaaz):
    http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_monsanto_sources/

    Reply

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