Bill Threatens Sustainable Agriculture
On Wednesday, November 17th, the Senate finished debate on Bill S.510, generally presented in the mainstream press as a bill that "would give the Food and Drug Administration greater powers to deal with tainted products and impose stricter requirements on producers." A final vote might come after Thanksgiving. Following on the heels of a spate of national outbreaks of food poisoning linked to eggs, peanuts, and spinach, this fairly benign representation is probably a major reason for its unusual bipartisan support.
Compromises on the original bill and proposed amendments increase the likelihood that S.510 will be signed into law. Under pressure from business groups, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) withdrew her proposal to ban the controversial plastics ingredient known as BPA from children’s products, which was widely seen as an impediment to the bill’s passage.
As of Thursday morning, a deal was reached on an amendment proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) that would exempt small farms who sell directly to customers with a 275-mile radius (the original proposal was for 500 miles) and who make less than $500,000 a year. The Tester Amendment was largely a response to supporters of the sustainable agriculture and local food movement who want to exempt small farmers from fees and regulations that could force them out of business.
But concerns linger, many of which are not being addressed by the mainstream press. In particular, S.510 has the capacity to extend government oversight - under the aegis of the Homeland Security Department - down to the micro-level of personal gardening. The practice of “recycling” seeds, whereby the seed products of one season are used to germinate the next, could be outlawed in favor of government-certified seeds provided by corporations like Monsanto. Dietary supplements not explicitly approved by the Federal Drug Administration could be banned, with the FDA stipulating a total of 18 nutrients as “fit for consumption” in supplements.
Unsurprisingly, S.510 does not address the root problems of the food-industrial complex that affects the health of millions on a daily basis, and the near-monopoly of agribusiness mega-corporations remains unscathed regardless of the outcome. But the wording of the final bill could have dramatic consequences, so it will be worth keeping watch.
"Nigeria Cowpea" by The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria (IITA) on Wikimedia Commons of Creative Commons Licensing.Tweet