***USA - ACTION ALERT***
Meet with your Senators at the District Offices to Discuss Food Safety!
Last week, the House of Representatives passed HR 2749, the Food Safety Modernization Act, and the next step in the process will be the Senate. Although it is not certain, the Senate will probably focus its food safety discussions on S. 510, sponsored by Senator Durbin of Illinois. S. 510 is different from HR 2749, but it contains many of the same problems (more below).
Congress is back home for the month of August, so this is a great time to set up an in-person meeting to discuss the food safety bills. Meeting with your legislators is one of the most effective things you can do to make your voice heard! We know that many of our members have never met with their Congressman or even thought about doing so. The prospect can be intimidating or stressful. Yet there's no reason it should be. They represent you - it's their job. Meeting with your legislators puts a face to an issue, making it very real and tangible for them. It also shows them how important the issue is to you.
If you call and are told that their schedules are already too full to allow a personal meeting, then go to one of the public events that your Senators will be attending! Ask their local office for the schedule of events that they will be attending in August and speak with them at those events. That allows you to educate members of the public at the same time that you educate your legislators.
Below are some tips to help with the meetings. And at the end of the alert are some talking points on S. 510 and the food safety bills in general.
Tips on Meetings:
Before the meeting:
1. Find out who your Senators are. You can look this up at www.senate.gov or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. (To find out who your Representatives are, go to www.congress.org)
2. Contact their local offices. Introduce yourself, including the fact that you're a constituent. Tell them you'd like to set up a meeting with the Senator during the August recess to discuss the food safety bills. You will most likely get transferred to a scheduler and perhaps be asked to put your request in writing.
3. If you are unable to meet with the Senator, be willing to accept a meeting with the staffer. Staffers often have a lot of input on issues!
4. Plan who will come to the meeting. Keep the group small, no more than 3 or 4 people.
5. Plan what points each of you will cover to use your time most effectively. We can help provide you with materials. Email email@example.com or call the office at (703) 208-FARM (3276).
6. Dress in business attire and arrive early.
During the meeting:
1. Introduce yourself and remind the Senator or staffer that you are constituents.
2. Be succinct and clear about what you want: food safety bills that do not harm the local food system. Try to emphasize positive items, such as the inspection of imports or the regulation of the huge industrial food processors, which would actually improve food safety.
3. While you're discussing the importance of local food systems, take a moment to also discuss the National Animal Identification System and the problems it poses. Encourage them to eliminate funding for the program when the conference committee meets after the August recess.
4. Be prepared to educate him or her about the issues. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" and offer to follow up with more information after the meeting.
5. Get the staffer's business card so that you can contact the person again directly.
After the meeting, write a thank you note. Email or fax is fine. And then send us your impressions of the meeting so that we know where your Senators stand and can follow-up as well.
Talking Points (note: these same problems are also found in HR 2749)
Food safety problems lie with the industrial food processors and food imports, not with local producers. FDA should not be given any additional regulatory power over the local food system than what the agency has at present.
S.510 calls for federal regulation of how farmers grow and harvest product. Farmers selling food directly to local markets are inherently transparent and accountable to their customers, and there is no reason to impose these regulations on them. Based on FDA's track record, it is likely that such rules will also discriminate against diversified sustainable farms that produce animals and crops in complementary systems.
S.510 expands FDA's powers over food processors, regardless of their size, scale, or distribution. FDA oversight of small, local food processors is overreaching and unnecessary. Small processors selling into local markets do not need federal oversight, unlike the large, industrial, multi-sourced supply chains that are the cause of most foodborne illnesses and food recalls.
S.510 applies a complex Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system to even the smallest local processors, imposing onerous paperwork and record-keeping on these small businesses. Applying a HACCP system to local foods facilities processing for local markets, as well as farmers making value-added products, could undermine and extinguish these emerging small businesses attempting to bring healthy local foods to American consumers.
In fact, when HAACP was applied to the meat packing industry, it was instrumental in reducing the number of smaller regional and local meat packers, yet failed to increase the number of independent, objective inspectors in giant meat slaughtering and packing facilities.
Bottom line: One size does not fit all when considering food safety bills! Local foods businesses are not the same as animal factories or mega-farms that sell products into industrial scale national and international markets, and should not be regulated the same way!
Pete Kennedy, Esq. - President
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund