BY ELIZABETH FLYNN There’s quite a bit of debate in food activist communities about the S. B. 510, aka The Food Safety Modernization Act. Local food activists, small farmers, and organic food producers are all concerned with the language of the bill, which extends regulatory power over farms, both large and small, to the FDA. As of today, the Senate decided to include both the Manager’s amendment and the Tester Amendment as parts of the larger bill, and it must be voted on in the house within 60 days. These amendments add provisions for local regulation of small farms that sell their products directly to consumers, allaying locavore concerns that applying identical federal regulations to both small farms and large industrial producers would effectively put small farms out of business. Yet many of the liberal blogs still are unhappy with the scope of the proposed regulations, and feel the bill is a back door avenue for greater corporate control of food production. Mainstream media is focusing on the food safety aspect of the debate, since the regulations for containing such mishaps have not been updated since the 1930’s. Phawker asked Philadelphia food sovereignty activist Kimberly Labno’s opinion. Ms. Labno also is employed by Penn State Extension, as the Horticulture Educator/ Program Coordinator and local retailer Urban Jungle as a Vertical Greening Expert.
PHAWKER: How much do you know about this bill?
KIMBERLY LABNO: I have mixed feelings about it because it gives the FDA more power to regulate food safety. Some people think this is good. But it would require a lot more regulation for small farmers. For example, small farmers would be required to register all their products. S. B. 510 increases the regulatory burden on small farms and any time that you do that, it costs more money to file, report, etc. I have a lot of respect for Senator Dick Durbin (D- IL), who is sponsoring the bill. He is down to earth and a senator that has a pretty strong democratic record, so it made me think twice about the bill. He voted twice not too go into into Iraq and against the supplemental spending bill.
PHAKWER: So what are local food activists saying about S. B. 510, with and without the Tester amendment?
KIMBERLY LABNO: A lot of food sovereignty organizations feel that the small farmer will be burdened, but the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture came out in favor of the bill with or without the Tester amendment. Their position is that its now or never for food safety. The reason people are upset is that a small sustainable diversified farmer is responsible for the same regulatory fees and compliance as large organizations which is really cost prohibitive.
PHAKWER: A lot of the liberal blogs seem to think that S.B. 510 is a backdoor way to institute terminator seed dominance, so that farmers will not be able to collect the seeds they produce, and will have to buy new licenced, genetically modified (GMO) seeds from large corporations each crop cycle. What do you think?
KIMBERLY LABNO: That’s pretty common actually. A lot of South American and African countries have to basically renew their licensing every year with their seed producers. Yield and disease resistance are higher with GMO seeds. Once you use that GMO seed the traditional genetic diversity of the seed bank dwindles and is lost.
PHAWKER: So why use those seeds at all?
KIMBERLY LABNO: They’re coupling some of this stuff with climate change legislation in other countries. They are saying that because of climate change they will not be able to grow enough food with out the seeds. They are using fear, they are coupling some of this stuff with climate change fear.