My friend Don over at Evangelical Ecologist commented on my "garden advice" post, worrying that the new Food Safety Bill (HR 875) would stop churches and other small institutions from growing food because the bill would prohibit, among other things, the sharing of seeds and the use of non-government-farm property to grow. Here's his post: Farmer's Markets - RIP.
I will be honest and say that I hadn't heard of this issue before he brought it up, but looking into it, I really believe that we have a major misunderstanding on our hands. Here's what I can piece together of what happened:
It started with a widely-circulated blog post by Linn Cohen-Cole called "Monsanto's Dream Bill, HR 875." In the post, Cohen-Cole alleges that the bill (sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro D-CT) is little more than an effort by industrial agriculture (specifically, the agribusiness giant Monsanto) to protect genetically modified food and fat government subsidies, and to put the little guy--even the pastor farming his church's backyard--out of business. Cohen-Cole writes:
This would all be very alarming--and, frankly, sounds plausible given what we learned about agribusiness in The Omnivore's Dilemma and other books--except for the fact that these issues are simply not present in HR 875.
For one thing, seeds and organic farming are regulated by the USDA, not the FDA, which HR 875 would affect. Secondly, there is nothing in the bill about backyard (and churchyard) gardeners or local farmer's markets--the bill is directed at farms that participate in interstate commerce. Finally, Cohen-Cole's accusation that Rep. DeLauro's husband works for Monsanto is not true either: Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic political strategist and consultant, did once have Monsanto as a client, but not in the past 10 years.
Generally speaking, the bill really is not about how, where, and by whom food is grown as much as it's about how food is kept safe when it is going to be presented for sale to the American public.
To me, this sounds like a well-intentioned effort to prevent salmonella and other dangerous outbreaks in our nation's food supply. The bill is backed by the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Consumers Union, and The Pew Charitable Trusts, among others. Plus, for what it's worth, it's sponsored by a Democrat from Connecticut, so how likely is it that she's in the pocket of agribusiness?
In short, I think church gardens--and my backyard plot--are safe. Do you?