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EDITORIAL: Oppressing the farmers

New regulations force growers out of the markets

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Every time Congress takes up a farm bill, as the House did Thursday, the politicians tell us it's all about saving the family farm. Government must step in, they say, with enormous subsidies, new regulations and unsought "guidance" from the city slickers, or the little guys will be swallowed by cold and heartless agribusiness. Decades of heavy-handed government regulation is having just the opposite effect.

Don Bessemer, the 70-year-old operator of the only working farm in the neighborhood of Akron, Ohio, has stopped raising lettuce, peppers, squash and corn. His popular farm stand is closed, and with it jobs for 30 people. Mr. Bessemer's produce has vanished from the area's Acme supermarkets. Mr. Bessemer will harvest only soybeans now.

The blame for all this falls squarely on the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires farmers such as Mr. Bessemer to track their produce from seed to store if the vegetables are usually served raw. In the wisdom of the bureaucrats, sweet corn, usually boiled or roasted, is exempt. Lettuce and peppers aren't.

"I can fight the bugs," Mr. Bessemer tells the Akron Beacon-Journal. "I can fight the lack of rain, but when the guy comes with a clipboard, what are you going to do?" He estimates the new regulations will cost $100,000 for initial compliance and an additional $30,000 annually. He's never been accused of sending unsafe food to market.

Because about 1.7 million Americans get sick from food each year, the government wants to require farmers to soak knives used to cut cabbage in disinfectant every night and submit to independent "audits" to prove they're taking obvious precautions. Common sense is free, but these audits can cost $5,000 each. If a farmer grows several crops, as most farmers do, he'll have to submit paperwork documenting which trucks were used to transport which crop, and how farmworkers wash their hands.

Farmers already trying to do the right thing — many submit to audits requested by grocery chains and other customers — are worried. They'll have to hire an extra farmhand who won't plant, nurture and pick, but spend his days filling out forms and reading the Federal Register daily to keep up with the latest dictates from Washington.

The full costs of the new law are not yet known. Like another federal disaster-in-progress, Obamacare, the Food Safety Modernization Act's specifics are still being "worked out." The deadline for public comments was extended a year, and implementation isn't expected to begin until 2015. Until then, consumers will just have to wash fresh produce and prepare it carefully, as responsible consumers already do.

Savvy farmers such as Mr. Bessemer are switching to soybeans, a crop that for now doesn't require step-by-step tracking and all the pedigree necessary to accompany a head of lettuce to market. Instead of responding to demand of the customers who actually eat the plenty from the fields, the market is more and more forced to adapt to the irrational dictates of unaccountable government agencies. This federal micromanagement makes us no safer, but it will put more family farmers such as Mr. Bessemer out of business.

The Washington Times

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