National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Statement of Food Safety
Like others in the sustainable agriculture movement, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), its member organizations and allies, are very concerned about recent administrative and legislative developments related to food safety. Some proposals appear to compromise small, beginning, sustainable, and organic farmers' access to markets, or penalize or even require the dismantling of important conservation practices and wildlife habitat. While NSAC members are united in a belief that the current practices of an industrialized agriculture are unsafe and unsustainable, an improved food safety regime should not jeopardize the development of new farming opportunities, local and regional food systems, sustainable and organic farming systems, and enhanced natural resource conservation and biodiversity.
There are two pressing food safety issues that NSAC is currently tracking most closely: proposed legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a proposed administrative action by the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service on Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements.
On the legislative side, the expectation right now is that the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry Waxman of California, will use a bill introduced by Representatives Dingell, Pallone, and Stupak (HR 759) as the general framework for a food safety bill he plans to move through his committee. The expectation is that he will incorporate into this bill Sections 204 and 205 of a bill introduced by Representative DeLauro (HR 875), as well as parts of Representative Costa's bill (HR 1332) and perhaps others. Waxman's staff has expressed his intent to move this bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee prior to the Memorial Day recess. As with most legislation, this timeline is extremely fluid, all the more so in this case since the same committee is attempting to move climate change legislation within the same time period. There have been several food safety bills introduced on the Senate side, but at this time, there are no immediate plans for action. NSAC will continue to monitor this.
On the administrative side, there is a proposed national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement that USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service is expected to consider in the next two months. In 2007, California established a Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) that has been used as a mechanism for government inspections of farms that sell to shippers who have voluntarily signed on in order to ensure compliance with a list of best practices. Since 99% of the leafy greens shipped in California are under this agreement, it is mandatory for most farmers. This is an example of a broader trend by trade groups to require handlers and shippers to only buy or ship products from growers that have grown in accordance with "Good Agricultural Practices" (GAPs). Some of the "best practices" outlined in the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement include removing habitat that attracts deer and putting up fences to keep them off farms when science shows they are a very low food safety risk. Other LGMA GAPs include monthly water testing and food safety audits prior to planting, prior to harvest and during harvest, which place significant costs on producers to comply, most especially on diversified producers including most sustainable and organic operations.
At our annual winter meeting (March 15-17), NSAC members voted to form a Food Safety Task Force which has just begun to do in-depth analysis of the food safety legislative and administrative actions and to develop a position paper on food safety from the vantage point of small and mid-sized farms, of sustainable and organic operations, and of conservation and environmental impacts. The NSAC membership has not made food safety an immediate actionable campaign priority since it needs to first undertake this serious policy analysis and development work. With the exception of some successful work during the 2008 Farm Bill to keep a mandatory marketing agreement amendment based on the California Leafy Greens agreement from being included in the farm bill, NSAC has not worked directly on food safety legislation in the past.
The NSAC Food Safety Task Force will be vetting drafts of its position paper with the rest of the NSAC membership and ultimately sharing it with other allied organizations and individuals in the sustainable agriculture movement to build support for a clear direction forward that is rooted in good science and that supports family farmers, consumers, conservation, and sustainable and organic agriculture. To stay up to date with our work, you can sign up for NSAC's Weekly Update and for our Action Alerts www.sustainableagriculture.net/take-action/sign-up-for-action-alerts/
While NSAC has made the decision to take up this food safety work, it has very limited resources to do so. Contributions to support our staff work in DC and at the Grassroots would be most appreciated. We welcome contributions and fundraising strategies that can bring in dollars quickly. If you would like to contribute to this work, please be in touch with NSAC's Development Director, Julie Hudson firstname.lastname@example.org
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