Will proposed national legislation kill the farmers market?

The Internet is abuzz with concern about the fate of farmer's markets under the newly proposed House Bill 875: Food and Safety Modernization Act of 2009. Many are alarmed that organic growers of local produce and even those gardening for themselves could be lumped in with commercial food vendors, calling them to meet new requirements for processes, record-keeping, and inspections.

I spoke with a spokesperson for Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, who introduced the bill. The spokesperson assured me that the bill does not apply to vendors at farmer's markets, and therefore will not change the way this business runs. It is meant to address food sold in supermarkets.

A press release from DeLauro's office states, "There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized by any fines, or shut down. Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill. In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods."

In response to the question about organic growers and the possible impact of this bill, the Congresswoman's office responds "There is no language in the bill that would stop or interfere with organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

The intent of the legislation, I was told, is to revise the structure of the FDA by creating the Food Safety Administration. At present, oversight of the nation's food supply is fragmented among many government offices, and this bill would consolidate responsibility for maintaining food safety and responding to food-related issues such as the current peanut butter fiasco.

The bill has taken only its first baby step on the long path to passage, and there is no guarantee it will survive, or if it does, will survive intact. It has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee. If you have concerns, contact your representative now, while the bill is still undercooked.

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