Congress hands the FDA a pitchfork

Back in 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. Congress claimed the new law would overhaul the country’s food safety system. And, subsequently, prevent outbreaks of contaminated food.

But remember, this is the same Congress that passed the purely partisan, laughingly labeled, “Affordable” Care Act. So I never had high hopes. And, unfortunately, things are turning out to be just as bad as I expected.

The law tasked the FDA with writing the new rules and regulations that will put the law into action.

Actually, the FDA trying to tell farmers what to do reminds me of the government bureaucracy in charge of telling fishermen what to do. This agency has a local office in Gloucester, MA, which had been the center of the American fishing and maritime industry since the 1600s. Gloucester is surrounded by water, visible from nearly everywhere in town. But the new, fancy government office building that houses the fishery bureaucrats is the only place for miles around where you can’t actually see the ocean!

Of course, most government bureaucrats would rather stare at brick walls all day rather than catch even a glimpse of the industry they’re supposed to regulate.

And FDA bureaucrats are dangerously ignorant about human biology, diet and nutrition. Yet the FSMA puts a pitchfork in the hands of these desk jockeys…who couldn’t grow a crop unless it was made of paper and red tape. (But at least a pitchfork is the right tool for slinging the government’s favorite “crop” of all.)

Since 2011, the FDA has proposed nine new rules to prevent food contamination. Under the guise of “protecting” the public, these insidious new rules could make healthful, nutritious, and sustainable farming practices obsolete.

And one of these rules is particularly worrisome.

This proposed rule would require farmers to wait nine months after applying manure to harvest a crop.

But nine months takes a crop from one growing season to the next–which means farmers can never use natural manure as fertilizer, unless they want to skip an entire growing season. Plus, as any farmer knows, adding manure each and every growing season continues to improve the soil and the resulting crops, in terms of nutrients.

So this new rule stacks the deck against organic farming. And in favor of industrial farming and the use of synthetic fertilizer chemicals. Of course, many organic and traditional farmers enhance their soil with manure. And with agricultural tea and compost as well. But these new FDA rules favor industrial farming and the use of synthetic fertilizer chemicals.

Of course, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, a recent article in Forbes magazine implied that deadly Salmonella infections come from organic farmers who use manure for natural fertilizer instead of artificial chemicals. But like most health claims Forbes makes, this is another one that is pure “BS.”

Research shows the vast majority of Salmonella infections in human populations come from hospital settings and other humans. The infections do not come from cows or livestock. But when has the lame stream media ever let a little science get in the way of another “good” scare story?

But this particular proposed rule also conflicts directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rules for manure. (And this government agency actually does know something about agriculture!)

In fact, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) sets much more sensible standards on manure. It requires only a 90-day waiting period from the use of natural soil fertilizers until harvesting.

I recently came across a story in the LA Times that put this difficult situation into perspective…

According to the article, an FDA inspector recently paid Maryland organic farmer Jim Crawford a visit. Jim uses manure on his crops. And he waits 90 days before harvesting, as required by the USDA’s NOP rules. But the FDA inspector told Jim that period wasn’t good enough and threatened him over their proposed rules. Luckily, the FDA isn’t allowed to enforce the outrageous FSMA rules until they are finalized.

Since then, Congress stepped back into the picture and attempted to put the FDA back in its place. They issued directives to the FDA that it can’t conflict with, or replicate, pre-existing NOP standards.

That caveat should save Farmer Jim and others like him a few headaches. But I have no doubt the government’s confusion, inconsistency, ignorance, and incompetence will still take another tremendous toll on innocent farmers, taxpayers, and citizens. Whenever you hear that a new government program will “protect you” against its new, favorite threat of the week, hold on to your pocketbooks. And to your Constitutional rights, if you can.

One thing is certain…once all the FSMA rules are finalized, organic farmers and consumers are in for more government BS–about manure, supermarket produce, and everything in between.


“Planned food safety rules rile organic farmers,” LA Times ( 2/22/2014