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A new law designed to enhance the safety of America’s food supply is speeding through Congress. If passed, it won’t work, but it might in its failure do lasting damage to the quality and healthfulness of the food we eat.

The most far-reaching effect of the bill is a new annual registration fee of $500 in 2009 dollars1 imposed on all producers—effectively killing off small and struggling farms (the bill has an exemption for “farms,” but on closer inspection, the exemption turns out to refer only to those farms that don’t sell any food). The accompanying documentation must be submitted electronically, notwithstanding a farmer’s religious objections, something I suspect the Third Circuit is going to take a rather dim view of.

The actual safety part is addressed by a government-bureaucracy-style labyrinth of hazard analyses and prevention controls that will, like the fee, impose an equal burden on all producers and therefore a proportionately greater burden on smaller producers (that is, Lexcorp Agricultural Enterprises can simply hand the forms off to its Form Filling Out Department, while Ma and Pa Kent have to take time away from their actal lives to do it).

In general, in fact, the bill suffers from the FDA’s tendency to treat small organic farms the same as large conventional ones. The FDA, as Michael Pollan documented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a bit of difficulty getting its metaphorical head around the notion that there are ways of doing things other than Big Agri’s. Smaller and organic farms, then, have to scramble to keep up or have to make their case to an unsympathetic government agency.

It’s really kind of a shame, in fact, that many of the people coming out against this bill are crazy. The Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which has a rational and lucidly written Web site, is against this billl for the logical reason that ” it would adversely impact small farms and food producers, without providing significant reforms in the industrial food system. [The current version of the FSEA] does not address the underlying causes of food safety problems, including industrial agriculture practices and the consolidation of our food supply.” I mention this because it’s easy enough to discredit a position by noting its adherents’ rants on, say, the government trying to take your car away if you put groceries in it, or Monsanto taking over the FDA.

It’s bad enough that the bill violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and threatens small farms and organic food production. Don’t let crazy people scare you into acting against your own interests.

1Or $1000, depending on what Web site you read.

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