Friday, July 17, 2009

The federal assault on farms

From the 20 July 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

As the recession presses on, in conjunction with the overblown fear of global warming, we witness the government continually changing the rules of the game to doing business. It has instituted - and will continue to institute - rigid controls over banking and finance in an effort to suppress risk-tasking while, at the same time, extending oversight on manufacturers and consumers who might be putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It seemed that the only business sector that was safe from Big Brother’s meddling hand was one of Mankind’s oldest pursuits: agriculture. But, things have changed. Farming is now in the sights of Uncle Sam. Once again using fear as a tactic to claim control over our day-to-day lives, Congress has introduced bill HR 2749 (the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) that it says will prevent the spread of E coli, Mad Cow and the like by empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate farms of all sizes. As with anything the federal government is wont to do, it’s not the threat of the disease we should fear but rather the government itself. HR 2749 would give the FDA almost unlimited power that would touch on every facet of a farm’s operation.

It starts, like all federal activities do, with registration. Any facility that holds, processes, or manufactures food would have to register on annual basis with the government to the tune of $500. This regulation would extend to any person or small enterprise selling their “manufactured” foods (which include breads and cheeses) at a local farmers market. That is a burdensome fee, especially to all the small vendors who would consider themselves lucky to surpass $500 in sales during a bountiful season. The fee will put many folks, especially the roadside stands, out of business.

The next step in the federal takeover is tracking. This bill would establish a food tracing system that would require farms and food producers, large and small, to track the origins of their food, whether they grew it or it was previously distributed. Extensive records would need to be maintained that show exactly where the fruits and vegetables came from, how they were grown, how they were stored and just who they were sold to. Based on that, all registered farms would be subject to warrantless searches whereby the FDA would have carte blanche to analyze all of their private records to verify appropriate tracking.

That same FDA also thinks that it knows farming better than the farmers do, so the Act would allow the agency to regulate how crops are raised and harvested. Many believe that the FDA would follow standards introduced by the World Trade Organization which, among other things, would ban manure use and require the chemical enhancement of crops and cattle. Farmers would be forced to abandon practices that have been safely used to feed people for generations.

If by chance the FDA did discover a contamination, the bill would empower the government to create a police state to suppress an outbreak. They would have the ability to quarantine an entire geographic region and prevent the movement of produce in and out of the designated area. If one farm in a given town was shown to provide tainted foods all other farms in that town would need to cease operations while the government’s investigation takes place. If that happens during that small and crucial window of time when crops need to be harvested or food producers need to be supplied the farmers will lose out on their livelihood.

To the farmer, the Act amounts to a massive loss of rights. It’s comparable to the Patriot Act of agriculture. It looks at what they do with a fine-toothed comb and demands that they conform to a set of practices laid out by an oppressive federal agency.

To the consumer, the Act means higher prices at the grocery store. The new rules and regulations will only add to the cost of doing business. And, don’t forget, the government has already forced food prices through the roof in recent years thanks to inflation caused by bad monetary policy and the ill-advised pursuit of ethanol which caused corn, corn products, and everything that eats corn (chicken, swine and cattle) to go up in value.

HR 2749 is just another in a long line of attacks on capitalism and freedom in the United States of America. But, there’s still a chance to stop it. You must write or call your congressperson and ask him or her to vote against the Act. If they don’t, farmers – and consumers – everywhere will suffer.

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