PASA Issues Op-Ed on Food Safety

      Posted On: May 31, 2009

After sending a small delegation to meet with the house staffers drafting the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) issued an op-ed on food safety which lays out their priorities for protecting food safety while not presenting undue burden on small-scale sustainable farms and those who direct market.

“…we contend that the greatest risks to food safety occur when two systemic factors are combined: a) “food anonymity” and b) geographically broad distribution patterns. The most basic strategies for achieving a safe food supply, therefore, are not only to keep the distribution patterns as local and/or regional as possible, but also to put the farmers’ faces back on the food. In an ideal scenario, both strategies would occur. Whatever else is said about specific practices on a farm or in a food processing facility, these two factors should be acknowledged as priorities
and properly rewarded by the regulatory authorities right up front. With this in mind, the following three-tiered structure seems both to be the current reality in food production and marketing systems, and a necessary framework for any successful effort to further regulate food safety and security:
1. Farm-direct – This includes farm stands, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs (e.g. subscription farms) and other innovative strategies where the relationship between individual farmers and consumers is immediate and understood.
2. Identity-preserved – This involves distribution patterns on a regional scale where the farmer and consumer do not necessarily meet, but the identity of the farm is preserved on products all the way through the system, from field to fork.
3. Commodity stream – This represents sales where no direct relationship between farms and consumers exists. The farm identity is vague or lost altogether, sources are aggregated and distribution tends to be widespread, including food exported to other countries.
Taking them one at a time, we believe there should be minimal intervention by the government in regulating practices in the first tier, with respect to private transactions occurring between individual farms and consumers. This means neither that food safety issues are irrelevant at that level, nor that regulatory officials should be prohibited from taking action and even shutting down farm-direct operations demonstrated to be making people sick. It just means that problems arising here can quite naturally be traced quickly and addressed effectively without associated threats to any broad segment of the population.”

The full op-ed can be read at the PASA web site here.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee hasscheduled a legislative hearing on this draft act for June 3, 2009.  The draft of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 can be read here.