Big Government: Taking The Food Right Off Your Plate <hr width="100%" color="#4e7689" size="1"> Washington, D.C. -- It was the most ambitious grab for control over food production since the administration of FDR - and it succeeded. In the last days of 2010, after months of wrangling, the Food Safety Modernization Act passed both houses of Congress. As we go to press, President Obama is expected to sign this sweeping new legislation. The Food Safety Modernization Act grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) almost unlimited power to regulate the food supply across the nation. Those new powers, many believe, could virtually take the food off your plate. That's because the new law could bankrupt many small farmers across the nation. As small farmers vanish, consumers will no longer have access to fresh, local, organic produce. It's a huge blow to those who believe in the right to choose what foods they eat. Most consumers, and even farmers, didn't see it coming. Local food movement threatens corporate profits As the local and organic food movement has gathered steam in recent years, small farming has enjoyed a resurgence. The items on your dinner plate have traveled an average of 1500 miles from farm to fork - unless you buy from a local farmers market or farm stand. More and more, people want to know where their food comes from. Nationwide food recalls are one reason driving the trend. In 2006, fresh spinach from a multinational corporation sickened hundreds of people. Three people died. In 2008, fresh produce used to make salsa at a leading fast food chain sickened hundreds across the country. It's no wonder that farmers markets have exploded in the past 15 years, growing by 245%. In 1995, there were only 1,775 farmers markets across the nation. Today, there are 6,132. Many communities now even have winter markets as farmers use innovative growing techniques to meet year-round demand. The local and organic food movement, however, has not escaped the notice of industrial giants. In recent years, agri-biz public relations campaigns reflect a "damage control" strategy aimed at protecting their turf. With major portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act shaped by agri-biz lobbyists, many local food advocates suspect the bill is also part of that strategy. Burdensome new regulations, small farm advocates say, will squeeze out small farmers. It's a blatant attempt, they believe, to quash the local and organic food movement. Big Government to micromanage all farms That's because the Food Safety Modernization Act gives the FDA broad new powers to dictate to farmers how they must grow produce. New regulations will control every aspect of farm production. Almost nothing is left to a farmer's discretion - not soil composition, water use, what chemicals are permitted or even required, harvesting techniques, packing processes, production temperatures, and more. The Tester Amendment was added to the bill to appease critics. The amendment exempts small facilities from the same types of large, expensive food safety plans that larger operations use. Small facilities are defined as farms with less than $500,000 in gross revenue that sell directly to individuals, restaurants, or grocery stores within a 275 mile radius. The mountain of documentation to qualify for the exemption, however, is almost as onerous as the safety plans themselves. The cost of complying with other parts of the bill, including record keeping, will still be a huge burden for small operations. Small farmers will find it almost impossible to grow or innovate. Next season, when you go to your local farmers market, you could find that your favorite farmer has gone out of business. The prices you have to pay to farmers who have managed to remain in business could skyrocket, reflecting the huge costs of the new "food safety" regulations. In the face of shrinking supplies and rising prices, many will turn to gardening instead. After all, if you can't buy the vegetables you need, you can grow them, right? Today you can. But the next growing season ... perhaps not. Will heirloom seeds be confiscated, or even outlawed? According to the FDA, seeds are food. That means they get to regulate them. The FDA decides what seeds are "safe" and what are "unsafe." And just as with contaminated food, they can seize or even outlaw any seeds they deem "contaminated." Today, there's a robust community of farmers, gardeners, and environmentalists who use heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been cultivated for hundreds of years. They don't grow well using modern industrial methods. That's why you seldom see heirloom produce in your grocery store. Heirloom varieties yield crops that offer superior flavor and nutrition. If you grow your own heirloom crops, a few simple techniques will allow you to save the seed from one harvest to use in the future. (You can't do that with modern hybrid and genetically modified seeds. Instead, you must buy new seeds each year.) On a larger scale, seed cleaning equipment is necessary to clean enough heirloom seed to meet commercial demand. The seed is then stored in special facilities on its way to farmers and gardeners. It's these equipment and facilities that have recently come under the scrutiny of the FDA. According to the FDA, seed cleaning equipment and seed storage facilities could "contaminate" the seeds. Complex regulations are now on the books to prevent this "potential contamination." It's those costs that are squeezing many small seed cleaners out of business. Only the global giants can afford to comply with the convoluted and numerous regulations. When small seed cleaners do manage to scrape together the capital to install expensive equipment to meet regulations, they're often bullied out of business. Giant agricultural corporations have a history of suing small seed cleaners because they "might" have inadvertently cleaned patent-protected genetically modified seeds. In the strange world of agricultural law, the seed cleaners are "guilty until proven innocent." Many can't afford the years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs to prove their innocence. They simply give up and shut down their businesses. The FDA hasn't reached into the home gardens of citizens to impose seed saving laws on them - yet. But they might as well have. With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the small companies that provide home gardeners and small farmers with heirloom seeds are in the FDA's crosshairs more than ever before. It may just be a matter of time until heirloom seed companies are forced out of business.