US Senate Passes an Overhaul of the Food Safety Regulations

In a weird convergence of topics, I just barely finished Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, last night.  This morning the headline of a New York Times article popped up announcing that the Senate has passed an overhaul of the food safety regulations.

This was my official review of Salatin’s book on GoodReads:

“An interesting read, and he makes some valid points about the difficulties of running a small farm in the current regulatory culture. He takes more personal satisfaction than perhaps appropriate at lambasting government employees who are enforcing the rules to the best of their ability (i.e. not turning a blind eye and letting him do whatever he wants) but still, he makes good points that it hardly seems fair that the rules are at times so vague that a change in personnel can mean the law is interpreted so differently that he now must spend tens of thousands of dollars to keep doing what he’s been doing legally for 30 years. He’s very anti-government, and pro-capitalism. He’d love to return to “Buyer beware” and let the onus of personal safety rest on the consumer, instead of trying to constantly legislate integrity- he has a valid point there, I think, but there are very few consumers who have the time to personally get to know every single food supplier their family would use, and who have the time to drive farm to farm to get their food. His idea of a parallel food culture is interesting- just like homeschoolers can opt out of the governmental education system, he would create a system in which consumers could opt out of the government (USDA, inspected) food system.”


OK, so Joel has become a bit of a celebrity in the past few years.  When Michael Pollan contacted him about getting some grass-fed steaks to try out for a book he was writing, Joel refused- he wasn’t going to waste the fuel sending his beef all over the country, you’ve got to come here if you want to eat my steak.  Joel runs a very efficient family farm, replacing expensive water pumps with gravity, compost instead of fertilizer, intensive pasturing instead of buying feed (moving the cows every day, and following behind with chickens to break down what the cows left behind), etc.  He has a lot of unique ideas to expand his farm and business, and under current laws they’re mostly illegal.  Because federal regulations are written about enormous “agri-business” farms, but applied across the board, this often means that small operations are priced entirely out of the game.

I’m curious to see what happens with this new bit of legislation from the senate.  It seems to me that Joel Salatin is correct when he says you can’t legislate integrity.  New layers of reporting is not going to make our food any safer.  If the salmonella comes from the raw cow sludge that industrial farms spray on their crops as fertilizer, wouldn’t you think the answer is to stop using the sludge?  If an e.coli outbreak can spread across the country in a matter of days, wouldn’t you think the answer might address decentralizing food production, so one plant’s mistake can’t sicken people across the nation?

I don’t agree with Mr. Salatin on everything, but he has some valid points: we need to address what is CAUSING the issues, not simply keep putting bandages and more rules every time the natural consequences of the centralized, industrial farming model crop up.  I don’t want to see small farms run out of the business, because industrial farms are making people sick.

And that ends my political rant.


3 Responses

  1. Ugh, bureaucracy! It’s always three steps behind current innovations, and slows progress. I agree, we need less of it.

  2. Rant on, my friend. Rant on. I’ll stand beside you with my chickens and my front yard broccoli.

  3. I’d never heard of this book before, but I’m curious to read if for myself now, and I know my mom would most likely agree with everything in it (from what little I now know of it). 🙂

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