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HOUSE SET TO VOTE ON FAST-TRACKED “FOOD-SAFETY” BILL

 

By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
July 30, 2009
2009 NewsWithViews.com

UPDATE: "FARM SAFETY" BILL FAILS TO PASS: HOUSE TO RE-VOTE TODAY!

[HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, did not pass the House on Wednesday. It was scheduled on the Suspension Calendar, which meant no amendments could be offered and only 40 minutes of debate. But the proponents failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to pass the bill under suspension. Instead, 150 Members of Congress said "Stop!"

But the fight is not over!

In a very unusual move, the Rules Committee met Wednesday afternoon and reported the bill to the floor a second time under what's called a "closed rule," which allows only one hour of debate. So the House may vote on HR 2749 again as soon as today, Thursday!

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is asking everyone to contact their U.S. Representatives AGAIN requesting that they vote against HR 2749.]

Farm Freedom Group: “H.R. 2749 Puts FDA Directly on the Farm”

WASHINGTON – August recess begins next week, when members of Congress leave town to touch base with folks in their home districts and mend whatever fences need mending.

In these last days before adjournment, the Obama administration has been applying serious pressure on lawmakers to get its priority bills passed by at least one house. But while the media and general public focus on the politically charged bills dealing with health care, climate change and hate crimes, less attention-grabbing proposals have been moved along in a series of congressional sneak attacks.

One of these -- H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act (FSEA) of 2009 – is scheduled to be voted on by the House today.

Opponents hoped it would be voted on later this week, but the House Leadership is determined to push it through and the bill has been placed "on suspension," meaning that debate will be limited to just 40 minutes and no amendments will be considered. A two-thirds vote will be required for HR 2749 to pass, instead of a simple majority.

“This bill would impose extensive fees and regulation on anyone processing food, including those selling at farmers markets and other local venues,” the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance warns. “H.R. 2749 also directs the Food and Drug Administration to regulate how crops are raised and harvested, putting the agency directly on the farm.”

Introduced early last month by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the FSEA is similar to the Food Safety Modernization Act (H.R. 875) and six others on the same subject that created a huge furor among bloggers on the Internet this past March. Supporters said that some kind of measure was needed to protect consumers from food-borne illnesses, but critics claimed it would saddle farmers and small food producers with unnecessary and costly paperwork and put the federal government in charge of American farming practices and food production, without making food any safer.

Letters were written to Congress, faxes and e-mails sent, and the blogosphere buzzed with discussions. But when no committee hearings were held on any of them or even scheduled, the bills apparently faded from public awareness.

It’s Back and Fast-Tracked

Those earlier bills could have been trial balloons, launched to sound out potential opposition and decide on appropriate strategies to counter it.

On June 8, Dingell introduced another version that was given the number H.R. 2749. Two days later Rep. Henry Waxman, who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, offered a substitute bill as an amendment.

Ann Shibler, editorial assistant at The New American magazine, described the behind-the-scenes action in a June 18 article – just 10 days after H.R. 2749’s introduction.

“Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Henry Waxman, John Dingell, Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Bart Stupack, D-Mich. – met to discuss the bill on May 26, which was 13 days before it was introduced,” Shibler wrote. “These congressmen are all sponsors of the bill. They also held a hearing on the bill, June 3, five days before it was officially introduced.

“With pre-planning like this, it’s no wonder that there’s already an amendment to the bill [Waxman’s substitute], and that it has been voted out of the Health Subcommittee and already marked up in the Energy and Commerce Committee as a bill being fast-tracked.” she said.

H.R. 2749 is now 133 pages. It’s possible that Waxman will add more amendments at the last minute, as he did with the Climate Change bill when he had over 300 pages of amendments dropped in the hopper at 3 a.m., the morning of the vote.

Worse than H.R. 875

The FSEA not only has many of the same provisions as H.R. 875, but overall in some ways it’s worse, says attorney Peter Kennedy, President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a D.C.-based group that champions locally grown and organic food production and played a major role in the opposition to H.R. 875. This included producing an in-depth analysis.

In a recent phone interview Kennedy talked with NewsWithViews about this recent version -- how it differs from H.R. 875, what its passage could mean to American farming, whether there’s any connection to the Codex Alimentarius (the international food code) and other matters of concern.

“[The FSEA] has a quarantine power that H.R. 875 doesn’t have,” Kennedy said. “It will give the [secretary of Health and Human Services] the power to halt all movement of all food in a geographic location without a court order.”

“The USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has the power to quarantine plants and animals, even farms,” he added, “but they’re talking here about the power to quarantine all food in an area, and that’s a lot different than quarantining certain plants and animals. This covers the entire food supply in an area.”


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He continued: “Another provision that wasn’t in H.R. 875 is that the federal government wants to establish national growing standards for produce – and that will involve the federal government dictating those standards. If someone has a garden and sells produce at a roadside stand or farmers market, the way the bill reads they’d be subject to those federal standards.”

Another difference: Under H.R. 875 the Food and Drug Administration, which is part of Health and Human Services, would have been broken into two separate agencies: the Federal Drug and Device Administration would deal with medical matters, while there would be a new Food Safety Administration to handle food production regulations and enforcement.

“This bill – H.R. 2749 – keeps the FDA in one piece and just revises the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” Kennedy explained.

Asked what he considered the most egregious provision of the bill, Kennedy found it difficult to make a make a choice.

“There are a number of things,” he said, listing a few – warrantless searches, traceability requirements, national growing standards, and national performing standards.

“The bill provides for warrantless searches to inspect business records. There’s the quarantine provision in there. And there’s a traceability provision which is so broad and vague, who knows where that’s going to end up at?”

Then there’s the question of raw milk.

“Most of our farmer members produce raw milk,” Kennedy said. “There’s a provision in there that calls for national performance standards for various classes of food and talks about performance standards for reducing contaminants. It sounds like ‘performing standards’ for raw milk could be pasteurization.”

“I think that the national standards will take away some of the independence that states have left to regulate foods within their border,” he said. “It seems that there’s more regulation of intra-state commerce in the bill [than in H.R. 875] – whether it’s through these national growing standards or performance standards. The warrantless searches of business records would apply to someone whether they were engaged in interstate commerce or not. The traceability requirement would apply to someone regardless of whether their business was involved in interstate commerce. It seems they’d be exercising more jurisdiction over intra-state commerce if this bill passes.”

The question has come up in discussion on the Internet that H.R. 2749 will bind U.S. farmers to the standards of the Codex Alimentarius and the dictates handed down by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission. [Codex Alimentarius is Latin for “food code” or “food book”].

“The word ‘Codex’ doesn’t appear in the bill,” said Kennedy. “But there is a provision in there that information can be shared. There’s talk about harmonizing standards, and there’s language that says information that’s exempt from the Freedom of Information Act can still be shared by another country that the U.S. has a treaty with.” [pp. 83-86 of the Waxman amendment]

“There’s language about harmonizing standards,” Kennedy continued, “So while there’s nothing that specifically mentions Codex, when you’re talking about ‘harmonization of standards’ – that sounds like the Codex to me.”

Half optimistic, half not -- Kennedy called attention to the online petition on his group’s website.

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“There’s still time to defeat H.R. 2749,” he said. “There’s an online petition people can sign – and they can add a message. But they need to phone too. They need to talk to someone in their representative’s office.”

Three Ways to Contact your Representative:

1 - Sign the FTCLDF's Petition and the American Association of Health Freedom’s Petition.
2 - Go to "My Elected Officials" at www.congress.org and enter your zip code to find your legislators. Call and/or send a fax.
3 - Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to contact your Representative's office.

Earlier Stories

Sarah Foster: Will Congress Wipe Out Home Gardens, Growers Markets? Mar. 23, 2009

For More Information

1 - H.R. 2749: The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009: To amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the safety of food in the global market, and for other purposes.
2 - Waxman Amendment to H.R. 2749 -- 133 pages
3 - Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
4 - Analysis and Update by the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
5 - Action Alert with Frequently Asked Questions by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
6 - Ann Shibler: From Farming to Serfdom. The New American, June 18, 2009
7 - Carolyn Lochhead: Crops, Ponds Destroyed in Quest for Food Safety. SF Chronicle, July 13, 2009

2009 NWV - All Rights Reserved

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Sarah Foster is a researcher and freelance writer:
sarahfoster7433@att.net


 

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“The bill provides for warrantless searches to inspect business records. There’s the quarantine provision in there. And there’s a traceability provision which is so broad and vague, who knows where that’s going to end up at?”