Who’s Fighting for the Little Guys?

Not your reps if you’re a farmer or producer

In the new edition of the Peninsula Pulse, out today, I write for the second time this summer about a piece of well-intended federal legislation that, in practice, places undue burden on small businesses while doing little to address the problem it’s meant to solve.

In June, area innkeepers told me about the Virginia Graham Baker Act (VGB), passed in response to the death of a little girl who was trapped under water by the suction of a pool drain. The act mandates that all pool operators replace their drain covers with new ones that will stop the suction problem. The drains cost about $75, which almost anybody would say is worth the price to save even a couple lives across the country. But the inspections, paperwork, and enforcement are costing operators in excess of $1,500 per pool, and more than $324,000 countywide.

This month, the Senate is likely to take up the Food Safety Enhancement Act (FSEA). The bill is a response to the large food contamination scares of recent years, traced back to large factory farms and imported food, both of which are underinspected. But this bill treats processors like the tiny Bea’s Homade Products in Gills Rock (actually located in front of a barn) the same as massive corporations like Kraft and Hormell. They’re charged the same fee, subjected to the same paperwork, and the same fines. Meanwhile, while small farms will have to track all their animals, megafarms will only have to track “lots” of hundreds of animals.

So, somewhat tighter reigns on the big boys, but a snug noose for the little guys.

But don’t mistake this for a partisan party. The VGB Act was the brainchild of Republican elder James Baker, and Michigan Democrat John Dingell sponsored the FSEA. Ignoring the little guy is apparently one sport where both parties can play on the same team.