Stand up for local foods

Written by Phil and Diane Greif August 28, 2009 03:05 pm

Oregon producers, businesses and consumers are at the forefront of Oregon’s fresh, wholesome, vibrant local food system. As a small, direct market farmer, I am concerned that a “one size fits all” approach to federal oversight of even the smallest of direct market farms and processors will have a chilling effect on local food producers and processors.

HR 2749, which recently passed the House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is a well-meaning attempt to address food safety concerns, but it treats the long supply chains of the industrialized food system the same as the small producer selling directly to consumers.

 

It makes sense to establish clear lines of federal oversight for long, industrialized food production chains that mingle multiple sources of meat or produce and process, package and ship them thousands of miles. It does not make sense to impose the same regulations on small local businesses processing local food for local markets.

We need our congressional representatives to stand up for local foods, as well as for food safety. The two are not at odds. State and local health and sanitation laws already govern local food processing. Direct market farms and identity preserved products from them are inherently traceable and accountable to the consumer and to the health regulators, should problems arise.

Every week throughout spring, summer and fall, thousands of Oregonians shop at farmers markets. More and more small farmers, including producers of responsibly raised and slaughtered poultry, pork, lamb, and beef, are marketing directly to restaurants, institutions and families. Oregon continues to be at the forefront of the local food movement and our local foods are a part of our identity.

It is troubling that the model for food processors adopted in the proposed food safety bills, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, was instrumental in the decline of small, regional meat packers while actually resulting in fewer independent inspections of huge meat slaughtering facilities where most of the salmonella and e-coli pathogens originate.

The bill also calls for FDA oversight of farming and harvesting practices for certain high risk commodities, such as leafy greens. Again, this makes sense when these greens are being harvested from multiple growers, processed, packaged and shipped all across the country. However, for a small grower selling directly at the farmers market, this represents a ludicrous federal intrusion. It also threatens the diversified farming practices of many organic farms that rely on producing a variety of livestock, pasture and produce.

The U.S. Senate has the opportunity to fix these bills, ensure food safety and keep our small family farms thriving. We applaud Rep. Blumenauer’s attempts to fix H.R. 2749 before it passed the House and urge Sen. Merkley to champion these much-needed remedies in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.


Phil and Dianne Greif of PD Farms of Elgin are direct market producers of fruits, vegetables and meat. They are members of Oregon Rural Action.