Saturday, October 24, 2009

Senate Bill 510: The $825 Million Dollar Folly

By James J. Gormley

courtesy of NOW Foods

Are you a backyard grower of heirloom tomatoes you sell on your own property or at a local farmer’s market? If so, you will be in for a whopper of a surprise if Senator Durbin’s Senate Bill 510 (S.B. 510) passes: you may be receiving a visit from inspectors.

Products not grown according to designated standards will be considered adulterated and your business records will be subject to warrantless searches by inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all this without any evidence that you have violated any law.

Wonder why the National Guard or Federal agents have effectively imposed martial law by quarantining your town? Under S.B. 510’s House counterpart bill, H.R. 2749 (Section 133b, “Authority to Prohibit or Restrict the Movement of Food”), sponsored by Congressman Dingell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have the power to prohibit all movement of all food within a geographic area, whether the food is in your grandmother’s grocery bag in her Toyota Hybrid or on a flatbed. No court order will be needed, just a phone call to the appropriate state official and a public announcement will be sufficient.

Upset that raw milk or raw milk cheeses (like feta) are no longer available in the U.S.? This could well happen thanks to the “performance standards” powers that would be granted to the FDA by S.B. 510, especially since the agency has made it clear that it is vehemently opposed to the consumption of raw milk products.

Amazed that U.S. food safety regulations strangely match those of other countries? Well, Section 306 of S.B. 510 would require “Recommendations to harmonize requirements under the Codex Alimentarius.”

And what about food supplement manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and health food stores? Will they be ensnared in this bill’s draconian, 1984-esque net? Very possibly so.

This all may seem far-fetched, but theoretically, this new law would give the government all this authority.

S.B. 510 (which would cost Americans $825 million in 2010 alone) and the House of Representatives version of this bill, H.R. 2749, which did pass under suspended rules, do not address the root causes of the U.S.'s food safety problems, which were highlighted in both a recent campaign by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and by a letter to 99 U.S. senators by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA).

According to Citizens for Health (, if this proposed law is enacted it would:

• Undermine DSHEA and move the U.S. one step closer to harmonizing our standards under Codex with those of supplement-restrictive regimes like the European Union. (DSHEA, or the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, asserts that supplements are food and are safe for consumption unless proven otherwise – ensuring that millions of Americans are able to enjoy access to safe, effective and affordable dietary supplements).

• Give the FDA unprecedented control over farms and direct-to-consumer distributors. If passed, the bills would charge facilities an annual $500 registration fee, require additional record keeping, and expand FDA authority to quarantine geographic areas for alleged food safety problems – all without significantly improving food safety.

• Cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars ($825 million in 2010 alone) while providing fewer physical inspections and less food safety overall.

• Harm U.S. organic farmers by imposing overlapping regulations.

• Hurt food supplements and health-food stores by imposing standards that are already covered by the AER (Adverse Event Reporting) Law, cGMPs (current Good Manufacturing Practices) and food facility registration.

• Cripple local food co-ops, farm stands, independent ranchers and artisanal food producers by imposing unnecessary standards and unfair bureaucratic burdens.

Clearly, S. 510, while purporting to increase food safety would actually leave consumers more vulnerable to foodborne disease since the FDA would be required to use a risky, risk-based food safety system rather than doing old-fashioned, effective physical, on-site inspections in plants, factory farms and slaughterhouses, where the actual food safety concerns are.

Furthermore, the U.S. has abrogated its duty to inspect and enforce food safety standards, both here and abroad, by allowing processing plants to regulate themselves under a failed system; and it has embraced policies that have driven independent U.S. farmers and ranchers out of business and replaced them with corporate-owned, industrialized food production units that are known to cut food safety corners to maximize corporate profits.

So what do we need to do?

Click here for an opportunity to send a letter opposing S.B. 510 as it is currently written.

Gormley Take Away: As of this writing, our nation is over $11.8 trillion in debt. Let’s not add $825 million more (actually several trillion dollar over the next few years) for a bureaucratic monster to be foisted upon an already deeply flawed U.S. food-safety system. S.B. 510 is sadly, and ironically, not about food safety, although I wish it were. It’s about food madness, pure and simple, and it must be fixed … or stopped.


  1. Anonymous12:16 PM

    what is wrong with this governmemt? why are they doing this kind of thing to us all the time? the cost of freedom is dear, the price of slavery is the lose of all freedom!

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  3. Dear Mr. Gormley,

    Thank you for the information posted in your blog about SB510. I have skimmed the wording of the proposed legislation, and readily confess that the legalese is eye-glazing and I can't speak to the accuracy of your assessment about many parts of the bill. However, organic food is important to me, so I searched on the word "organic" in the text of SB510; the only two parts referring to organic farming (Sec. 110, Building Domestic Capacity, and Sec. 419, Standards for Produce Safety) state that if this proposed legislation is passed, "the proposed rulemaking under paragraph (1) shall: …‘(E) in the case of production that is certified organic, not include any requirements that conflict with or duplicate the requirements of the national organic program established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 6501 et seq.), while providing for public health protection consistent with the requirements of this Act."
    ... and that within two years after passage, a report must be submitted to Congress that would include a description of: "…(H) The impact of requirements under this Act (including amendments made by this Act) on certified organic farms and facilities (as defined in section 415 (21 U.S.C. 350d)."

    So, could you tell me where to look in the text of the proposed SB510 that brought you to the conclusion that it would: "• Harm U.S. organic farmers by imposing overlapping regulations."

    I agree with you that one of the most important and necessary steps to protect the food supply would be to re-establish frequent, thorough, third-party inspections of all food processing facilities (like in the old days, before that program was gutted). I also believe that $500 per year to register as a local farmers' market seller is way too high. And I would very much prefer that all produce be regulated under the guidelines of the organic food producers; that would make consumer protection simpler and more uniform, and I bet it would result in a healthier population. Eventually.

    Thank you for your blog, and for inviting readers to post comments.


  4. Dear Laura,

    Farms have been excluded from the latest version of the bill thanks to widespread input from consumers and farm/organic groups.

    However, S. 510 would ultimately make our food less safe, not more, and S. 510 would do so at the expense of health food retailers and manufacturers, and consumers of natural foods.

    While S. 510 has undergone some revisions along the way it still falls far short of what is acceptable.

    Given that my information suggests it could come up for a vote shortly after Labor Day, there isn't sufficient time to ensure that the bill is overhauled before a vote comes up.

    That is why we all need to join with Citizens for Health ( and send a message to our senators opposing S. 510 in its current form.

    Among my concerns about S. 510:

    1) What the bill says: If the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) believes that there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to an article of food (and any other article of food that the Secretary reasonably believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner) will cause serious health consequences, then the source would have to give HHS agents access to all of its records.
    My concerns: Simply believing there's a potential hazard isn't enough - there should be proof before HHS intrudes upon the livelihood of our health food retailers and manufacturers. Taking it a step further: What constitutes "reasonable," and by whom is it determined? There needs to be evidence, and it needs to be clear and definitive.

    2) What the bill says: Biennial registration of food facilities is required.
    My concern: What is a food facility and what is it not? Is it a farm stand, a roadside fruit and vegetable market, a food co-op, a health food store? These must be specified or specifically excluded.

    4) What the bill says: It mandates use of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) as a means of identifying sources of contamination.
    My concern: HACCP is a risk-based algorithmic approach to food safety that allows many shortcuts and involves a monumental amount of expensive paperwork and recordkeeping with NO improvements in on-site, physical inspections.

    5) What the bill says: If the Secretary determines...that there is a reasonable probability that an article of food is adulterated or misbranded...the Secretary shall provide the responsible party an opportunity to cease distribution and recall such an article.
    My concern: Similar to #1 above, what level of evidence will constitute "reasonable" probability? In addition, the words "adulterated" and "misbranded" have been applied by the FDA so liberally over the years that they've become watered down as descriptors of contamination.

    And, lastly, the biggest problem of all with S. 510:
    What the bill says: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the U.S. is a party."
    My concern: No other countries ensure that all of their internal regulations are consistent with WTO or any other treaty or international agreement - so why should the United States sacrifice its sovereignty? As if that wasn't reason enough, we all share the concern about what might happen to the affordability of - and especially our access to - the products and services we choose to maintain our heallth and wellness if the United States was required to harmonize with the WTO, SPS, the Uruguay Rounds, and Codex!

  5. 825 billion in 2010????? count your zeros. I read the bill and it said 825,000,000 in 2010.
    That's 825 million. Not that I'm in favor of the bill, I most definitely am not, but get the facts straight.

  6. Anonymous10:56 PM

    hey- the part where it specifically refers to Codex harmony is actually in section 305(c)(5), not 306!

  7. Please try to avoid the use of the term "Raw Milk". It is "Whole Milk". Raw Milk is a disparaging term used by those who hate anything that is not under their control.

  8. Dear Roy....thank you for the eagle eye....I corrected my numbers.
    Dear Death-by-Him.....thanks for that correction, although this part was taken out anyway, fortunately.
    Dear Bro whole milk versus raw milk, whole milk refers to full-fat milk or milk with 3% milkfat....raw milk refers to unpasteurized these terms to really mean different things. In addition, raw milk is a term used by many if not most producers of raw milk and raw milk cheeses, as well. I respect what you are saying in that critics try to make it sound like raw means ...unfinished or uncooked, like raw chicken, but until we come up with a better term (maybe pure milk?) then we're pretty much stuck with this for now....
    Thank you all for writing in!


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