Congress shouldn’t play with our food

“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”

— Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, who just days ago was surely spinning beneath the Monticello sod over Senate passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, must now be smiling as the bill has hit a serious snag.

You see, Jefferson had the notion that this was to be a nation of small farmers, and he also was a fan of the U.S. Constitution, intentionally designed to make it rather difficult to pass new laws.

The Food Safety and Modernization Act, a $1.4 billion dose of doublespeak if I’ve ever heard one, is hung up because its authors were apparently unschooled in congressional procedure, a separate problem entirely. And it’s now become a bizarre political football for those who want to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. There’s actually a good chance this bill will become compost by year’s end.


A big problem with the food safety bill is that there is not enough straight-up information about it. Most news stories offer only shallow overviews. Internet posts range from the hysterical paranoia that Homeland Security stormtroopers will be busting down doors of people who saved last year’s pumpkin seeds, to the wildly absurd notion that this bill will actually make food safer.

Backers of the measure range from seed cartel Monsanto and processed food giants Kraft and General Mills, to locavore advocate and author Michael Pollan. Go figure. Most local food organizations and small farm groups oppose it.

The bill itself seems to be written in some strange language, and contains enough vague wording and obvious loopholes that interpretation may require legal assistance. Even the amendment to exempt small farms making less than $500,000 annually contains apparent exemptions to the exemption.

In short, this thing was ill-conceived, unclear, and would likely tilt the planting fields in favor of industrial farms. Jefferson was right — congress has no business telling us what to eat.

10 thoughts on “Congress shouldn’t play with our food

  1. Thomas Jefferson was not among the authors of the U.S. Constitution; at the time, he was in Paris serving as American ambassador to France. However, Jefferson’s political protege, James Madison, was at the constitutional convention, so Jefferson was likely kept apprised — via letters that took three months to reach him — of proceedings at the convention.

    1. I stand corrected, and through the wonders of modern technology have made the correction to “fan” of the constitution. I knew he was not an author but somehow had thought he had made it back in time to sign the thing.

  2. Hal, I simply want to thank you for such a clear and brief take on this confusing bill. I suspect the bill is confusing for all the reasons you mentioned as well as (perhaps?) intentionally in an effort to keep John Q. Public from fully understanding what is happening and thus pass the bill without anyone knowing why. Monsanto, et al are not dummies when it comes to manipulation and bamboozling.

    “. . . congress has no business telling us what to eat.” Congratulations on this line – one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. 😀

  3. Im with Lindy , Hal, “. . . congress has no business telling us what to eat.” Nice, simple and to the point. What don’t they get about that?
    Love the Thomas Jefferson quote too!

  4. We get the government we vote for. The governments meddling in our private live is appalling, from TSA scans, this bill you talk about, to a health care bill that no one read before passing.

    We have too much government.

  5. Too often what we vote for morphs into what corporations pay for. We may have too much government, but cutting government equals cutting jobs. Do you recommend cutting jobs?

  6. Spoken like a true Keynesian!

    Au contrare, cutting government spending creates jobs, not the other way around.

    And people vote, not corporations. Corporations spend money, but so do Unions.

  7. Hey Hal,

    A friend of mine brought your blog to my attention. I have been following this issue pretty closely for personal reasons. I say, put your seat belts on, folks, we could be in for a rocky ride if they can put anything like this through.

    Something else you might be interested in, and I admit, I have not had a chance to check this out for truth yet, but there are rumors that the air waves are also being coveted.

    I appreciated your thoughts on this!!

    Val Wolking

  8. Hi Val, Well, the issue of broadcast media regulation/deregulation and consolidation is really complicated, and was even a major topic of study in my journalism law class about 30 years ago. On one hand we want no regulation of freedom of expression. On the other hand a very few people can buy up broadcast stations, which use public airwaves to do business (that’s why they’ve always been regulated to some degree), and then we get only what they want us to hear . . . except in the case of public radio, which only further complicates the issue.

    It’s clear we expect and need some sort of oversight to some things like this. It’s just a matter of how much is too much.

    I certainly don’t claim to know the answers to any of these questions . . . food safety, the economy/government spending/taxes/jobs, or airwave regulations. I just like to toss out my ideas sometimes. Otherwise, we mostly get soundbites and platitudes and no realistic solutions.

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