To: All Front-Porch Zucchini Peddlers
From: In-House Counsel, aka "Mom"
Date: March 19, 2009
Re: Legal Exposure Created By Vegetable Stand
As you may know, the recent peanut butter scandal has given impetus to a bill currently making its way through Congress: H.R. 875, or the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. We will be following this legislation closely, because if it becomes law in anything resembling its current form, the front-porch vegetable stand and even the backyard vegetable garden may well represent a legal exposure that the household cannot bear.
While the peanut butter scandal mainly concerned factory food and factory officials who rival Snidely Whiplash for sheer villainy, the authors of H.R. 875 are proposing to protect the public from the furthest thing from factory food…namely, us.
The bill states quite plainly that it applies to "any food establishment … engaged in processing, packing or holding food for consumption in the United States." All such establishments are required to register with a new Food Safety Agency and be subject to its regulations, as well as random regular inspections. As a Category 4 food establishment, you can expect to have the coffee table you drag out onto the sidewalk inspected at least quarterly.
You cannot assume that you are exempt
because none of you is yet 12 or because your income amounts to $60 in
a brisk week.
And I cannot not assume that I am exempt under the provisions for "food production facilities" because I don't farm for profit, but merely to feed and amuse you. The legislation states clearly:
The term 'food production facility' means any farm, ranch, orchard, vineyard, aquaculture facility, or confined animal-feeding operation.
There is no hobby or small farm exception.
H.R. 875 gives this new Food Safety Agency the right to set regulations…
…with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment and water.
In other words, the new agency will be able to deal preemptively with the possibility of unsafe food by telling all farmers how to farm.
This includes the innovative sustainable agriculture types you like to chat up on Saturday mornings at the Saratoga Farmers' Market, as well as…us.
You should be aware that our current methods of refrigeration–sticking stuff on the staircase between the cellar door and the Bilco doors–are unlikely to meet regulatory standards in future.
Provisions concerning fertilizer use and animal encroachment may well prevent us from growing organically, using our neighbor Herb's alpaca bedding. As recent Garden Rant posts have documented, there is enough science to generate a certain amount of hysteria as to whether manure is truly safe. And the overreach of H.R. 875 is nothing if not hysterical.
Of course, if the bill is not a product of hysteria, the only other possibility is that it is profoundly corrupt. A sop to agribusinesses who don't like to see us growing our own beans rather than buying them from Green Giant.
I'm deeply sorry to cause any distrust in the workings of our government among impressionable people not yet 12. But if there is one thing legislators do not understand–indeed, often actively disapprove of because there's not much profit in it for their campaign donors–it's the cycle of life.
And that, my colleagues, is what we happen to be tapping into in our backyard garden.
As your lawyer, I advise that we cease all such activities immediately. This includes eliminating the annual trip to buy more seedlings than you can possibly plant at Clear Brook Farm, arguing over who gets what section of the garden and whose spot is bigger, dragging the garden hose over my emerging plants, failing to see what's a path and what's not, and other such accustomed pleasures of spring.
As your mother, on the other hand, I am willing to buy arms and build barricades in order to allow you to sell your boxes of cherry tomatoes on the sidewalks of our fair city.