Federal food safety regulation a slippery slope: Part II- Small Local Farmers vs Large Agribusiness

Written by Joe Suppes

One Size Fits all Regulation

More centralized power for food safety may sound great in a world where I can buy a food item with 100 ingredients, grown in 100 separate counties, states, and countries and that has been process in 100 different counties, states and countries.  But what if I want to buy an apple from the farmer down the street?  Should they be subject to the same rules and regulations as corporate factory farms that sell food items that end up in millions of products all over the world.

While we do need to stop large companies from carelessly contaminating our food, we also need to consider the dramatic difference in the types of farming that are done in America.  It is important to keep our food safe, especially when it passes through many hands.  But what if food just passes from one set of hands to the next.  Should both small, local farmers and larger corporate farmers be required to follow the same federal food safety regulations.

Current examples of large scale food safety regulation generally don’t do enough to protect us from pathogenic microbes from food mass produced on multimillion dollar corporate farm operations.  But these same regulations may be overkill for a small farmer who sells his produce locally.

“Raw” Pasteurized Almonds vs Raw Almonds

Almonds in the US are a great example of how large scale regulation in the end actually benefits large farmers by potentially destroying small farmers.

In the name of food safety, almonds sold in the US must be pasteurized.    All pasteurized almonds are cooked which can destroy beneficial properties or they are chemically processed using a probable human carcinogen.  After they go through either of these processes they are then labeled raw.  I guess one part of the pasteurized almond regulation that I don’t understand is that I thought the word raw meant not cooked or processed.  Who wants to live in a society where words lose all meaning?  Since only roadside stands are exempt from pasteurization, almost all US almond farmers are encouraged to lie by calling their almonds raw.

Not only do we have mandatory regulations creating less healthy almonds in the US but the pasteurization equipment is so expensive that it could easily bankrupt a small or medium sized farmer.  $1,000,000+ in pasteurization equipment either puts smaller farmers out of business or makes them subject to the larger almond farmers that can afford the equipment.  Sounds like a lose-lose situation for small and medium sized almond farmers.  This is a shame since small and medium sized farmers are our strongest hope for real healthy food in the future.

Rewarding the Culprit

All of this pasteurization regulation, that is putting stress on small almond farmers, is the result of 2 outbreaks of salmonella in North America.  The only outbreak that occurred in the US was from the largest supplier of pistachios and almonds in the world.  The ironic part of this story is requiring both small and large farmers to pasteurize their almonds actually help the companies that are having trouble with these outbreaks.  By putting a burden on the small and medium sized farmers that is similar to larger corporate farmers, you end up wiping out the competition for the large farmers, thereby opening us up to more safety issues in the future.

It sounds counter intuitive to say new safety regulations can increase safety issues in the future, but if new regulations wipe out small farmers that is exactly what we’ll get.  It will not be impossible for small farmers to keep up with regulations but it will mean they will have a harder time competing.  Eventually small farmers will not be able to keep up and will be forced out of business.

Who do You want in Charge of Your Food Safety

It is important to also remember that new regulations will just put a quality control person in charge of food safety.  This person can be so separated from the end consumer that their motivation will not necessarily be safety, but it will be to keep their job.  When the local farmer, who coaches the local little league team, is in charge of quality control of food safety there is more of a direct desire to see that food is safe for the end user.

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