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by Biodiversity intern Regina Fitzsimmons

Last month, HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, passed in the House. While this legislation marginally amps up government food oversight by granting the FDA power to force food recalls and increase inspections of food processing plants (a power—you got it—the FDA can now only recommend), spokespeople for small farmers have big concerns if this bill passes in the Senate. You can read a breakdown of the bill by the Washington Post and keep up on the current Congressional actions at the Library of Congress online.

In sum-up, though, concerns arise from a couple of things: for one, identical regulations will be imposed on both small and large food enterprises. In tangible terms, this bill would require all food handlers. Under this legislation a big company like Kraft would pay the same FDA registration as an artisan cheesemaker with a couple of goats. A second concern is that the legislation also grants the FDA the power to set standards determining how crops are grown, requiring the adoption of tracking technologies—a process significantly more taxing for small operators. Food writers like Gourmet’s Barry Estabrook are hoping that Senate won’t follow in the Houses’ fast-tracking footsteps and will instead allow a sustained debate with the inclusion of possible amendments like Kaptur-Farr legislation that was glazed over in the House. Estabrook hopes the Senate will address these concerns because as he put it, “being a conscientious farmer is a tough business [and] Congress just made it tougher.”

It isn’t surprising that the House steam-rolled through the review and vote of HR 2749. This bill comes a month after yet another food recall: this time, Nestle’s Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. In the past three years, we’ve avoided bagged spinach, ground beef, tomatoes (even though Serrano chile peppers were the real culprit) and peanut butter, among other foods. People are getting sick and we all want to know the answer to the most basic of questions: what’s okay to eat?