One local farmer from Akron, Ohio, seventy year-old Donald Bessemer, has stopped farming lettuce, corn, squash and peppers and will now only produce soybeans. His long time farm stand is now permanently closed and with it, thirty employees are out of a job. In addition to this, his locally grown produce has disappeared from the area’s Acme supermarkets.
So why did he stop farming? Bessemer is one of many cases where the asphyxiating regulations from the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act pushed small to medium farmers out of business. This law granted the U.S. government new authority over the public’s right to grow, trade and transport any food.
One major demand of the 2011 Act is to require farmers to track their produce from “seed to store” if it is to be consumed raw. Bessemer estimates that this new red tape will cost his business $100,000 to implement and another $30,000 per year to comply. Unfortunately, the real costs are still unknown as the specifics have yet to be worked out. We will only realize the full effect sometime after 2015—when a head of lettuce might cost $10 to $15.
If this is not bad enough, Congress has introduced yet another farm bill under the pretext that they are helping the little guy while it ends up having the opposite effect.
This latest Farm Act has been crafted under the pretext that it is responding to the approximately 1.7 million, or half a percent of Americans that become ill from raw fruit and vegetables. To solve the problem, bureaucrats now want all farmers to soak knives every night that are used to cut vegetables, and then submit to independent audits that can cost up to $5,000 each. The fun does not stop here. Farmers that grow multiple crops will also have to submit paperwork documenting which trucks have been used to transport which crop and how workers washed their hands.
There are many farmers who already submit to similar requests from grocery chains in a serious effort to stem the problem of food-borne illnesses. However, these new regulations will oblige farmers to hire additional staff whose sole job is to maintain and submit an enormous amount of paperwork, driving up food prices. The net effect of socialism in farming is that Congress is forcing farmers out of business and sending agriculture jobs to other countries.
When farmers start saying that they are going to scale back their businesses to avoid falling under the expanded authority of the FDA over the food supply, the country is headed for economic disaster. It is a situation where no one wins.
Much of the exaggerated reaction of liberals is based on misinformation, or perhaps more accurately, culpable ignorance. The Heritage Foundation states that food-borne illnesses have been reduced by 33% since 1996 because of advances in technology that has made food much safer. So what has caused the impression that food-borne illnesses are on the rise in recent years? “According to the new research published in the current edition of the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, some 16 percent of Americans experience some form of food-borne illness annually—compared to the previous estimate of 25 percent. Best of all, the new analysis has lowered the number of deaths related to food-borne illness from 5,000 a year to 3,000 annually—a difference of 40 percent.”1
The FDA is only one of fifteen agencies that administer numerous laws regulating food safety. Overlap in agencies, inconsistency in administration and oversight are commonplace. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FDA and USDA have 1,451 duplicate inspections of food producing facilities annually. Perhaps the GAO should oblige FDA and USDA should improve their own operations before they “improve” farming procedures by sowing the seeds of failure in our agriculture.