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Food "Safety" Reform and the Covert Continuation of the Enclosure Movement

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Message Nicole Johnson

Food "Safety" Reform and the Covert Continuation of the Enclosure Movement

By Nicole Johnson

"Healing ourselves is the essence of democratic development."-- Michael Parenti, final remarks, California State University, Channel Islands, March 11, 2004.


Our nation is awakening to the fact that convenience-oriented, industrial food products, which have substantially displaced our traditional diet, have altered our collective health for the worse. Citizens are actively seeking out food that is unadulterated by a long list of unhealthy though government-approved -- ingredients in industrially processed products, recognizing them to be a primary cause of our steady decline into preventable chronic disease and premature death. People increasingly demand food in its natural form to nourish their bodies down to the cellular level.

In response, farmers and entrepreneurs around the country are striving to re-create the infrastructure required for healthy local food to flourish. But their hard work and not inconsiderable investment will be snuffed out if the pending food safety bill is passed by the Senate. Those who care about health their personal health, the environment's health and the health of local economies must understand that the fate of healthy local food is on the line.

The Food Safety Enhancement Act (HR 2749) that passed the House in July and its counterpart in the Senate, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510), will enable transnational corporations to tighten their grip over the global food system. Under the pretext of food safety, the legislation will facilitate the off-shoring of our food supply, allowing powerful transnational corporations to move commodities and finished products more easily between their international subsidiaries, greasing the way for further concentration of the market. At the same time, the legislation will hyper-regulate less well-capitalized farming and processing operations out of business. Within a short time frame, small- and medium-scale farmers, processors, and distributors will fall victim to its business-busting and job-killing requirements.

Furthermore, this self-styled safety reform will make our food less safe, not more. How could that be? The reason food safety in the U.S. will actually decrease is to be found in the WTO rules, specifically the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, that requires developed countries to accept less developed countries food safety standards as "equivalent" to their domestic standards. Simply put: The overriding -- though unpublicized -- motivation for passing this legislation is to make the importation of food into developed countries less burdensome for transnational corporations. To achieve that goal, vested interests want to harmonize international standards. So, while our farmers' operations would be held to increasingly higher standards that demand costly testing, tracking, fees, and extensive, burdensome paperwork, transnational corporations will be able to more easily shift production anywhere it's cheaper and less regulated to produce. More of what we used to produce ourselves will be imported.

In addition, the authority of local and state regulatory agencies will be usurped by Food and Drug Administration, so that it can align that is, harmonize -- its regulations with international standards developed by powerful vested interests. Though no one in the corporate-owned media can be bothered to bring it up, unelected and unaccountable supranational bodies will set policies that govern how food is allowed to be grown in the US.

Once implemented, this legislation will ensure that the dominant industrial global food system is anointed as the only legitimate manner of food production and distribution, a deception that amounts to a covert continuation of the Enclosure Movement.[1] Just as the Enclosure acts during the 17th through 19th centuries drove peasants off what was once communal land, the food safety legislation will serve to bar small- and medium-sized business people from engaging in food production. It will essentially seize the most of basic human rights and bestow upon the well capitalized and connected a monopoly on food production.

Of course, there are other ways to improve food safety that do not require sacrificing US jobs and businesses. It would be unconscionable for Congress to grant the FDA police-like powers over how and ultimately who produces our food without first considering alternatives to that which is being pushed by those behind this legislation who have greatly exaggerated the food safety "crisis."

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Nicole Johnson is a researcher and activist living in Ventura county, California. Her kids wish she would go back to painting and stop worrying so much about the world.
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