Food Industry

Florida Food Freedom Act? Just Say No

Should small farmers be required to obtain state and local licensing, certification and inspection requirements, and have to go through the same rigorous safety testing as large, corporate farms? Senator Carey Baker, R-Eustis, doesn't think so. He proposed the Florida Food Freedom Act this month, which is meant to exempt small farmers from the Florida Food Safety Act passed in 1939. Those like Baker who back this bill argue that regulations and fees from that original Act were meant for large agricultural operators that sell wholesale, and believe that exemption from such fees would encourage the expansion of farmers' markets and roadside stands, and overall make locally grown food more easily obtainable for consumers. As much as I'd like to side with the small farmer against big bad federal regulators, I couldn't disagree more. In fact, to cut back on food safety procedures at a time when more and more people are falling victim to foodbourne-related illnesses -- about 5,000 Americans die each year from eating bad food -- would be as insane as loosening financial regulations on banks while hedge funds were running amok. Oh right, now I get it: Baker is a Republican.

Terry McElroy, spokesman for The Florida Department of Agriculture and

Consumer Services has it right when he says that the regulations are

designed to protect the public's health. "The problem is, whether you

buy a dozen eggs from a farm or a quart of milk from a farm or from the

biggest supermarket chain in Florida, you have to have the same

standards. People can get just as sick or sicker, maybe not as many

people, from that milk from the farm or from strawberries from the

fruit stand."

Question: What would prevent you from buying eggs infected with E. coli at a local food market?

Answer: Nothing.

Question: Would the purveyor of bad eggs be subject to any penalty?

Answer: None whatsoever, other than bad word of mouth.
Question: What if you died from eating said eggs?

Answer: Still: Just bad word of mouth -- although not from you.

If Baker has his way, in place of all the sanitary testing, production

site inspections, etc., all a person would have to do to sell food

directly to a consumer is take a course to become a certified food

safety manager. And how small would a farm have to be for this

exemption? I bet it wouldn't have to be that small -- and then an

amendment here, a loophole there, and larger farms would be exempt, and

then we would, as the Republicans like to say, "have government off our

backs". And 50,000 of us, unencumbered by government rules, would die of food poisoning each year. Or maybe we'll just get real sick, and thanks to selfish Republican assholes like Sen. Baker we won't be privy to health care. (BTW-This guy is vying to be Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture!)

Lower fees for small farm inspections and such? If they are currently

exorbitant, then sure. But do away with inspections altogether on the

assumption that there are no unscrupulous small farmers/businesspeople

out there? Please.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein