The Blogging Farmer
Alex Tiller’s Blog on Agriculture and Farming

HR87: Don't Turn Your Back (Just Yet)
A ‘One Size Fits All’ Piece of Vague Legislation Threatens To Take Control Away From Small Family Farmers—And Doesn’t Do A Damn Thing About Food Safety

One of my favorite quotes comes from Will Rogers—"With Congress, every time they make a joke, it's a law, and every time they make a law, it's a joke."

Except HR 875 is no laughing matter. It's the so-called "Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.”

I wrote on this about a year ago. This bill was introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), whose husband, Stan Greenburg, reportedly has ties to (surprise!) Monsanto. Now, on the surface of it, the bill looks like a good-faith attempt to protect the American people from "food-borne illnesses" while "ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes."

HR875 is currently in committee, which is where most bills go to die. Still, at any moment it could come lurching back to life. So...why are so many people worked up about it?

On one hand, people are seeing it as a government takeover of agriculture, including not only the big factory farms and huge corporate operations like Monsanto and ConAgra, but small organic farmers and even your neighbor who grows vegetables in his backyard and sells them at the local farmer's market. On the other hand (given Representative DeLauro's purported ties to Monsanto), folks are saying that it's a corporate takeover of agriculture and is going to put Big Corporate Ag in charge, forcing everyone to use GMO seeds (which Monsanto has a virtual lock on).

This bill threatens to take control away from small family farmers and force us down a particular path—with heavy fines and even prison time for violators.

The bottom line is, this bill threatens to take control away from small family farmers and force us down a particular path—with heavy fines and even prison time for violators. Here's what's dangerous about HR 875—it's a "one-size-fits-all" piece of legislation that in the great tradition of the legal profession, is incredibly vague. The hidden cost of legislation like HR 875 is that when things like this get signed into law, there are going to be lawsuits and litigation and court challenges for decades, and the only folks that are going to come out winners are the lawyers.

There's another bill sneaking its way through Congress right now, and from what I'm hearing, it's not only worse than HR 875, it's more likely to become law. That's HR 759, the so-called "Food and Drug Globalization Act of 2009."

What's really scary about HR 759 (introduced by Congressman John Dingle of Michigan) is that it's totally flying under the radar. Hardly anyone knows about it. This bill would allow the FDA to impose "science-based standards" on everyone right down to the backyard gardener and force everyone to pay "compliance fees," submit to "hazard evaluations" and "preventative controls," and put a huge paperwork burden on everyone.

And it doesn't do a damn thing about food safety.

This bill is likely to come up for a vote by the end of May. Get educated—call your member of Congress—and raise your voice before it's too late.


Fowl Play In an Idaho Town

People are taking control of their food supply by raising chickens in their back yards

Recently, a woman living in the small Idaho town of Kootenai (about fifty miles northwest of Spokane, Washington, in the middle of Idaho's panhandle) called her city council to find out what the regulations were about keeping chickens in one's back yard.

The problem was, there weren't any. Turns out nobody had ever brought up the issue before.

I've talked a lot here about the open as well as the hidden costs of beef and why America's favorite source of protein is liable to get much more expensive (and admittedly, healthier and of better quality) in the future. Fortunately, chickens and ducks are much less resource-intensive, take up much less space—and produce an excellent source of inexpensive protein.

Yes, factory farms abuse poultry as well, as but more and more people vote with their pocketbooks and are willing to pay $3 to $5 a dozen for eggs laid by happy, free-range hens, that may very well go by the wayside. But another way people are taking control of their food supply is by raising chickens in their backyards. (My friend Scott in Hawaii just got 3 hens)

It's a bit of a project; you'll need a good, safe enclosure that raccoons and neighborhood cats can't get into, and of course, you'll need to invest in a regular supply of chicken feed. However, the good news is that most municipalities today are quite open to the idea of people keeping chickens in their backyards. Several folks I know of are even turning their flocks into a nice little revenue stream by selling eggs to their neighbors.

Most city ordinances that restrict this kind of enterprise are not necessarily directed toward chickens particularly; when these laws were passed, people were mostly worried about their neighbors keeping cows, horses and pigs—all of which give off aromas that many people do not find especially pleasant (and the fecal matter can pose a distinct health hazard in an urban or suburban area).

Chickens and ducks are pretty unobtrusive (geese can be noisy, however). Nonetheless, you'll definitely want to check in with your city council members before you start raising chickens. You should also know that while an increasing number of cities and towns are allowing residents to raise chickens in their back yards, there is no way that anyone is going to allow you to keep roosters—for reasons that should be patently obvious to anyone who works the night shift. If you like the idea of roast chicken on occasion, you'll still have to rely on your traditional, rural farmer, or pick up some free-range chickens at your nearby Trader Joe's or Whole Foods market.

That said, if you are an egg connoisseur, you're going to find that home-raised eggs are tastier and healthier than the bargain brand you've picked up for years at .88 cents a dozen from the local Mega-Lo Mart most of your life.

Yes, it's a lot of time and trouble, and you may have to fight with the city council—but trust me, it's well worth it.
(from Alex Tiller's blog, Tuesday, April 20;

Hello, and thanks for checking out my blog.  My name is Alex Tiller and I grew up in rural Ohio (Clark County) where my family still owns farmland (corn and beans). I am a member of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and am also an agribusiness author/blogger. I write about commercial farming, family farms, organic food production, sustainable agriculture, the local food movement, alternative renewable energy, hydroponics, agribusiness, farm entrepreneurship, and farm economics and farm policy. I visit lots of farms in different areas of the country (sometimes the world) that grow all kinds of different crops and share what I learn with you through this blog.
You can contact me via email by clicking here: Email Alex (

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