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.