Digest – Blogs: Tomato truths, legislation lies, and the murky waters of sustainable shrimp

The price of tomatoes: Tom Philpott follows up on his trip to Immokalee, Florida with the second of a two-part post, examining how tomato pickers survive on $50 a day. The answer? With much difficulty. (Grist)

That's the internet for you: There's been quite a bit of webby rabble-rousing over Representative Rosa DeLauro's food safety bill, but much of it is misinformation to the extreme. Why it pays to read the bill (and learn about other, legitimately scary pieces of food safety legislation in the hopper) before taking action. (Grist)

Digging into Dingell: Meanwhile, Jill Richardson takes a look at HR 759, introduced by Rep. Dingell, as rumor has it that it's the food safety bill most likely to pass. It has its good points, but on the whole it is more flawed than the bill by Rep. DeLauro that has the internet in a panic. (La Vida Locavore)

We'll toast to that: The indefatigable Eddie Gehman Kohan raises a glass of "Baroque Obama" to the Pres following his weekly address, which targeted our broken food safety system and promised big changes. In the meantime, we hear alcohol kills bacteria. Recipe included. (Obama Foodorama)

Nobody's perfect: Q&A with Michael Pollan on our broken food safety system - and why he ate imported blueberries for breakfast. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The shrimp sustainability spectrum: Chef Aaron French dives into the sustainable shrimp debate with a review of available shrimp choices and concludes that there's no silver (or pink, as it were) bullet. (Civil Eats)

6 Responsesto “Digest – Blogs: Tomato truths, legislation lies, and the murky waters of sustainable shrimp”

  1. Eric Reuter says:

    Regarding HR 875, I have read the bill's actual text, and still find it every bit as frightening as it's claimed to be. Sections 206 and 210 contain plenty to scare small farmers, and nowhere does the bill make any distinction whatsoever between any scale of farm or type of food production/handling. The Grist article criticizes people for reading between the lines, somewhat validly, but it's also important to look at what really is between the lines. The wording is vague and over-arching enough to authorize a great many things that are not spelled out, and nowhere does it prohibit or otherwise address such things.

    For example, the bill specifically does give Federal agents the right to inspect any farm and order any product they deem not in compliance to be condemned on the spot. Yes, it allows for a form of protest to the Administrator, with "reasonable" quickness if the product is perishable (which brings to mind someone's quote that if it's not perishable, it's not food). But that affects most deeply the best, healthiest, and safest foods out there, those that are harvested and sold locally within a few days.

    Maybe it's just a philosophical difference, but when I read a piece of legislation like that, I see what it implicitly allows as well as what it explicitly allows. The wording of that bill, and the clear intention of its writers, is to give the government extraordinary powers of all types of agriculture. It's not right, and it's not even practical.
    '
    In any case, I have posted what I felt was a reasonably sane, non-ranting response to this on my farm's blog at:

    http://cherthollowfarm.blogspot.com/2009/03/hr-875-truly-frightening-bit-of.html

    Those who wish to review for themselves and comment are welcome to.

    I have to say, my wife and I are a bit disappointed in the Ethicurean for downplaying and virtually ignoring this issue. Your voice is so strong and correct in general that it is strange to see so little interest in an issue which is so important to the small farmers you love; the ability and right to farm in ways that work best for us.

  2. I read HR875 and still find it very scary. It was obviously written by Big Ag and people who don't have a clue about real farming. Unfortunately a "Fact" sheet full of lies is being spread that makes people think the problems are "Myths". That is a Mythtake.

  3. Elanor says:

    Hi Eric,

    I'm sorry that you're disappointed and I assure you that we're planning on doing a longer post on this issue. The mention of HR 875 in the digest was not intended to suggest that there aren't legitimate concerns with the bill, but to highlight that there is a LOT of incredibly misleading, blatantly false information circulating on the web and that it pays to read the bill before reacting. You obviously have, and that's great.

    For now, my response would be this: there is vagueness, no question, and a lot that can be read between the lines. But that vagueness is what separates DeLauro's bill from Dingell's (HR 759) and the two that would actually mandate NAIS (HR 814 and S 425), and it's not necessarily a bad thing. DeLauro's leaves a lot more to be determined in the rulemaking process, meaning that the public - you and me - would have an opportunity to really shape it in a way we couldn't hope to shape the original bill. You're right that the bill doesn't differentiate between different scales of farm, and that's a scary thing, but the rules would, and we'd have a say in that. There are also places where DeLauro explicitly differentiates in our favor (on traceability, for example, the bill says that small farms could keep paper rather than electronic records). In contrast, Dingell's bill mandates the use of electronic recordkeeping systems, which would be a huge problem for small farms - and there's little that could be done in rulemaking to change that.

    I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems with DeLauro's bill, and we'll want to ask our members of Congress to offer amendments that would improve it (if it goes forward - and word on the DC street is that Dingell's is much more likely to pass). But I've been shocked by the intensity of the response to her bill while three much worse bills have been virtually ignored. It's worth mentioning that Big Ag HATES DeLauro's bill because it focuses so much on processors as the site of contamination - as I mentioned in previous posts, Big Ag would much rather foist all the liability onto the farmer - so the GMA etc. have been lobbying strongly against it. When we focus on DeLauro to the exclusion of the other bills, we feed into their strategy and risk that a much blunter bill will slide through under our noses without a fight. I hope we can offer a space to discuss all of the bills and ways to influence them when we post on the topic.

  4. Elanor, I politely disagree. The vaguenes is extremely dangerous. The bureaucrats can then se the vagueness to claim authority. We then end up having to battle them in court, a long and expensive process that will bankrupt farmers. The reality is the small farmers won't even be able to resist the Borg like moves of the bureaucrats. We need clear, transparent, good laws. Not vague laws that then can be used to abuse people. -Walter

  5. Elanor says:

    Walter, bureaucrats can't claim authority unless the rule - the set of detailed instructions laying out how the law will be implemented - gives them space or instructions to do so, and we can actively work on the rule to make that guidance clear. We can also, as I said, push our representatives to offer amendments to the bill that would it improve it before it even gets to the rulemaking stage.

    But I have to reiterate my main point: DeLauro's bill is probably not the one that Congress is going to run with, there has been FAR less outcry about the other bills that have dangerous elements explicitly written into them, and we risk spending a whole lot of energy arguing over whether DeLauro's bill is good or bad while Dingell's - which mandates national GAPs, charges food processors a registration fee regardless of their size, and requires electronic traceability - goes through unchallenged, to the glee of some Big Ag interests. There's nothing wrong with working on DeLauro's bill but we can't do it to the exclusion of the others, especially since Dingell's has a lot more backing in Congress right now.

  6. Hillary says:

    Not all farmed shrimp are bad - while living in Michigan, I had the opportunity to experience the nation's first completely indoor, eco-friendly shrimp farm.
    I've toured the facility, spoken to the proprietor at length, and eaten the (wonderful) products many times! It's as fresh as shrimp gets when you live in the Midwest:
    http://www.usmsfp.org/news/headlinenews/06-09-2005-russ%20allen.htm