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1984, The Internet and The Food Safety Modernization Act

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I’ve been making my way through George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 for the past couple days. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic, end-of-the-world, government take over books (or movies for that matter), so I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Orwell has been called prophetic; there are evident parallels in the way society has moved since Orwell predicted tele-screens and government surveillance of citizens. 

The last two years have brought about some interesting shifts in health policy. A change in administration brought about the largest healthcare reform this country has ever seen, to the tune of how ever many trillions of dollars, with the long-term goal of covering every last person in America while reducing the amount of money our country spends providing medical care to it’s citizens. (We spend more than any other nation, but rank among the poorest in terms of our national health.) We aren’t far enough removed from the healthcare debates for me to forget the email forwards talking about healthcare reform as the president’s nefarious plot to control every piece of food, medicine and supplement we put into our mouths the way Big Brother attempts to controls every aspect of life in 1984. The fact of the matter is that the day the bill was signed into law, the tanks did not roll down the streets disguised as ambulances. It is true, there will be many changes over the next few years in terms of how we pay for healthcare, but none of those, I would hope, involve getting hand-cuffed and thrown in jail for eating broccoli or taking a vitamin. 

One of the latest bills that has prompted various circulating emails is the Food Safety and Modernization Act. Whistle blowers have touted the bill as a totalitarian take over of our food system without citing specific language in the bill or giving concrete evidence for any of their claims. They have accused the bill of shifting control of our food supply into the hands of a few industrial food producers such as Monsanto. God forbid I should ever defend a company that I personally believe is as evil as Monsanto, but this morning I actually took time to read a summary of the bill and dissenting opinions on either side of the debate.

There is nothing in this bill criminalizing organic agriculture. There is nothing in the summary I read that has anything to do with supplements; in fact, a version of the bill I read stated that,

“DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS.—Nothing in the amendments made by this section shall apply to any dietary supplement that is in compliance with the requirements of sections 402(g)(2) and 761 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 342(g)(2), 379aa-1).”

Note that these things change all the time in our seemingly seedy congress and senate; back room deals allow for riders to be attached to hundred-page long bills without much notice, but that doesn’t mean this has necessarily happened in this case. Most of the claims I’ve read in the slew of forwarded emails I’ve gotten simply are not supported by the language in the bill. That doesn’t mean that this bill is perfect. Like many pieces of legislation that pass through congress and the senate, it is too much of a one-size-fits-all approach, and will have a greater impact of smaller, organic farms as security measures are tightened. 

Unlike what many internet sites and forwarded emails will lead you to believe, this bill is not moments away from being passed. There isn’t even a guarantee that it will go to vote this session. And unlike what many of the whistle blowers would like you to believe, this bill’s goal is not to strip you of your rights to eat organic food; it is an attempt to make sure that food production complies with the latest safety standards so that we don’t all get food poisoning. (I’ve had one bout with food poisoning; it was the closest I’ve been to a hospital visit since getting stitches as a 12 year old and an experience I’d choose to do without for the rest of my life.) Should this bill go to a vote and actually pass (not something I would count on in light of our fiercely partisan politics), count this as an opportunity for people on my side to shine. Let’s prove that eating organic is healthy, viable and safe. Prove it with your health care dollars and with your clean bills of health. Stay informed; if you are concerned about a piece of legislation, read the actual bill and if you have concerns, call your elected officials. We put them there; they should be there to serve our best interest, not that of billion dollar corporations. As oil continues to spew into our Gulf Coast, now is not the time to shun government regulation. We should instead pursue it with a clear head and an open mind; it could save us from another environmental disaster, an evening doubled over the toilet, or a hospital visit. 

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