by Jack Minor,
for The Greeley Gazette
Weld County’s predominate industry is agriculture. We produce a range of products, corn, onions, carrots, alfalfa, and sugar beets. We are also producers of a new kind of crop: organic foods.
At its basic definition organic simply means the product is made with no pesticides or livestock is not fed with any genetically modified feed. It would seem such a thing would be fairly simple and require very little regulation as it is natural. However, with the government few things are simple. Organic farms and products in many ways are the subject of more regulations than their counterparts that use pesticides and food additives.
For instance, government regulations state that foods can have a certain amount of pesticides and still be declared organic. When the inspectors visit the premises, the producers must document the fertilizers they use as well as the amounts of any pesticides they use. Inspectors will come to the farm and observe the entire operation.
The state of Colorado passed a bill, SB 10-038 that will add to the number of inspectors for those that produce organic foods. Patrick Senstock, manager of Life Source One at 2961 County Road 29 in Greeley said regulations on organic foods are confusing and often seem designed to benefit the larger corporate farm operations at the expense of the small farmer. He says there is a problem with how the government defines the difference between natural and organic. He said according to the government definition Sunny Delight could be considered natural because it contains orange juice and he would like for the government to define natural as not having any synthetic substances in them at all.
Jacquie Monroe, of Monroe Farms, said she believes inspections are necessary because more and more corporate farms are getting into organic and, “if there is a single loophole they will use it.” Monroe said that the inspections have been getting stricter. She mentioned how the government wants farmers to tag every single animal for tracking and said that is impractical for small farmers to have to tag hundreds of individual chickens.
She said the regulations are designed to benefit the large farms at the expense of the smaller farmers. “The corporate farms want to be able to use pesticides and still be considered organic.” While safety is everyone’s concern, there are some who feel the government is going too far in its regulation of organic foods.
In congress HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 has been introduced. The bill was introduced in February, 2009 by Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. Her husband, Stanley Greenburg, conducts research for Monsanto the world’s leading producer of herbicides and genetically engineered seed. The bill calls for the creation of a Food Safety Administration which would allow the government to regulate food production at all levels. The bill would even mandate property seizure, fines of up to $1 million per offense and criminal prosecution for producers, manufacturers and distributors who fail to comply with the regulations. Another bill that has both organic and small farmers concerned is Senate Bill 425, the Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown D-Ohio.
Similar to HR 875, this bill would require a national “traceability system” for all stages of manufacturing, processing, packaging, and distribution of food.
There are those who fear these bills could put small farmers out of business. Each farmer or producer would be required to maintain records regarding the purchase, sale and identification of their products. In other words, if a local dairy farmer sold a family a gallon of milk he would be required to document who he sold it to and where they lived.
Monroe said regarding SB 425 they need to have separate requirements for the small farmer as the tracking requirements would be excessive for them. Regarding the records, the bill states they, “should include an electronic statement with the date and names and addresses of all parties to each prior sale, purchase, or trade, and any other information as appropriate.” If an inspector finds a food item in non-compliance they can force the producer to recall or confiscate the item and force them to cease production.
There have already been several instances of federal authorities confiscating and fining producers. In April 2009, a Pennsylvania SWAT team confiscated a farmer’s machinery and milk products for selling raw milk to local residents without a state license. In February of this year, agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration came to a non-commercial farm demanding an investigation because the farmer had too many cows.
The agents declared he was producing food for human consumption. When the farmer insisted he was doing no such thing and asked the agents how they could know, the inspector replied, “Well, you have cows. You cannot be consuming all the milk you produce.” Monroe said she has not seen incidents such as these in Colorado yet.