By Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture.
If you're like me, you're starting to grow weary of all the hoopla generated by the Food Safety Modernization Act and the effort to generate public comments to the Food and Drug Administration by the November 15 deadline. This has been a long slog, seeming perhaps like much ado about nothing to many who aren't directly involved.
But anyone experienced with monitoring food system policy knows that the most important aspects of FSMA have little to do with issues involving water, manure, exemptions or even definitions. What we're really dealing with here is the potential culmination of a decades-long process of using government policy to favor a fully industrialized food system over and above the preceding system.
What we had 50 years ago functioned much more in balance with the needs of our land and people, and better supported the intersection of rural and urban communities in particular. Over the years, we "won" things like organic certification and country of origin labeling. But now [consumers] seem to know less about the origin of food in the mass marketplace than we ever did. FSMA represents the triumph of a tidal surge of food system policy that would make Superstorm Sandy seem like a romp in the kiddie pool.
It's all about authority
First, FSMA removes decision-making power away from farmers and consumers, and into the hands of government bureaucrats located more and more remotely from the system's production end. Second, it potentially represents the final triumph of technology over nature in terms of which sector of our collective reality is calling the shots.
What we're facing isn't just the potential presence or absence of pathogens in our food. Rather, the question is who will be responsible for our food in the future, how it'll be grown, and under what authority. The trend is almost certainly toward making it harder and harder – if not eventually impossible – to grow foods in less technologically intensive ways and bring them to local and regional markets without an industry-approved, profit-taking mechanism in the middle. It's roughly equivalent to the process that caused the vast majority of dairy farms in this country to fail.
The final determinations haven't yet been made. FSMA comes at a time when public interest in knowing more about where and how our food is raised is greatly accelerating. Industry experts and food safety activists are still shaking their heads in disbelief to behold what was accomplished in the legislative phase of FSMA by those who want to keep authority closer to the fundamental farmer-consumer relationship. Now those gains must not only be defended, but further advanced in the process of bringing FSMA regulations to fruition.
If you haven't already weighed-in with written comments on the FSMA rules, you're in danger of forfeiting your opportunity to participate in history. Thousands of pages of necessary information have been boiled down and made available to you through an extraordinary effort by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and their #fixFSMA campaign.
Everything you need to know about the proposed regulations and how to comment can be found on the NSAC website or on the PASA website.