I keep asking myself, how did we ever get to this point, where political and economic control of America’s food system is on the verge of being turned over to a government agency whose leaders declared early this year we have “no absolute right” to “any particular food” or to “bodily and physical health.”

I keep thinking about the old Soviet Union’s control of food system, where, in the interests of the revolution (food safety), farms were turned into collectives (facilities), which produced grand five-year plans (HACCP plans), reenforced by centralized standards (Good Agricultural Practices), and there were special exemptions for private peasant plots (Tester-Hagan exemptions). It all led to chronic shortages, terrible quality, and eventual collapse.

I keep wondering how smart informed people from all segments of the food rights and sustainable food arena got themselves engaged into supporting a hopelessly complex set of rules to maybe, possibly, depending-on-how-you-interpret-them allow certain small farms exemptions from this governmental takeover of the food system.

And I marvel that a bunch of other smart people are willing to trust the FDA, and hope that it will suddenly transform itself from a bunch of hardasses who take pleasure in driving small food producers out of business into a sensitive agency dedicated to sustainable food production; you can see the skewering I took for contradicting that logic in a new posting about the food safety debate at Grist.org (although most of the comments are skeptical of the FDA apologists). 

The government takeover was premised on winning over a bunch of notable foodie organizations over, and once the zealots engaged people from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, the Northeast Organic Food Association (NOFA), and Rural Vermont, they could pull the old good-cop-bad-cop routine, with Sen. Tester the good cop via the hope of holding Big Ag at bay, if you’ll only help me figure this thing out. Once you’re figuring out the “or’s”, “and’s”, and “wherefore’s”, and deciding when a farm becomes a “facility,” you quickly lose touch with the big-picture issues, including:

* That the food safety crisis is of a much different sort than what is addressed by S510. Ben Hewitt, the author of The Town That food Saved, and of an upcoming new book on food safety, articulates the real challenges very clearly in a recent blog posting.

* That the Tester-Hagan amendment provisions are their own can of worms in terms of enforcement. Food rights advocate Doreen Hannes imagines one scenario where farmers at farmers markets will need to ask for customer identification to determine if they live within 250 miles of the market.

Finally, we’re hearing that if the Congress doesn’t pass S510 now, the opportunity for food safety controls will vanish “for a generation.” That’s just another form of fear-mongering. Unfortunately, the government-takeover artists have gone too far to turn back. They couldn’t get the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), so they moved to “food safety.” Believe me, if S510 doesn’t make it through Congress this time, they’ll soon be back with another scheme, and it will have just as little to do with food safety. I’ll bet the farm on that one.?