David Gumpert at Grist highlights one of the problems with our bifurcated food-regulation system: In the case of an organic egg producer in Massachusetts, FDA regulations are butting up against the USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative, which promotes more interactions between farmers and the public. The company, Country Hen, has regularly allowed customers to visit, an important part of how they get new customers. But the farm is big enough to be affected by a new FDA regulation that requires poultry farms to limit visitors -- a policy based on the specious evidence suggesting it might control salmonella cases. So the visits have to stop.
As I wrote last month, that's one of the problems with food-safety regulations in general: they treat all producers the same. In addition, the new food-safety bill would require producers to use "science based" anti-contamination methods, which usually emphasizes the kinds of methods required to keep really large operations sterile, rather than encouraging the kind of smaller-scale productions that rely on techniques unlikely to introduce contamination in the first place.
This is a central tension in our food system: Keeping food safe requires heavy-handed regulation for the vast majority of food producers who don't do things cleanly and safely. But part of what makes our food cheap and available for everyone are these high-volume methods that risk safety. Not everyone has access to local food, and not everyone could afford the premiums organic and locally raised food demands, and it's unlikely we'll ever have a system that relies totally on these kinds of small producers. At the same time, the system will never shift at all if small producers face huge hurdles that they can't surmount, placed there to address problems they're less likely to have, anyway.
-- Monica Potts