The organic food I buy locally has never resulted in a food safety problem, and yet the farmers who produce my food will soon be forced, at great expense, to follow a number of new regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act.
I urge the FDA to address the following issues in the proposed FSMA rules:
Tester-Hagan “qualified exemption” in both the Produce Rule and the Preventative Controls Rule:
1. The gross sales test to qualify for the Tester-Hagan provision should be based on sales of food that is subject to FSMA, whether the produce standards or the preventative controls rule. Sales of food that would not be regulated under FSMA should not be included.
2. The FDA should be held to specific, evidentiary standards before it can revoke a farmer’s or food facility’s Tester-Hagan exemption.
3. A farm or facility that is exempt under the Tester-Hagan amendment should be given at least 90 days to submit evidence and defend its exemption if FDA seeks to revoke it.
4. If the exemption is revoked, the farm or facility should have at least two years to come into compliance with the FSMA rules. The FDA has other mechanisms it can use if there is an immediate threat of foodborne illness.
On-farm Produce Standards Rule:
1. The FDA’s approach to traditional farming methods, such as diversified livestock-crop farms, the use of working animals, and the use of biological soil amendments, is fundamentally flawed. The agency should not restrict these sustainable methods of farming without data showing an actual, verified increased rate of foodborne illness; the simple fact that these methods include diverse microbiological communities is not a sound scientific basis for restricting them.
2. The waiting period between applying manure and harvesting the crop should be no more than 120 days, and there should be no waiting period between applying compost and harvesting the crop. The excellent track record for safety on organic farms shows that this standard is sufficient.
3. Compost teas should be treated the same as compost, whether or not there are ingredients such as molasses or kelp meal included.
4. Water testing should not be required more often than once a month, and farmers should be able to test less frequently after establishing the safety of their water source through 3 consecutive negative tests.
5. The standard for generic e. coli should be higher, and farmers should have the option to test for pathogens before being required to discontinue use of a water source.
6. The provisions on wildlife and domestic livestock need to be clarified to protect farmers from improper abuse of discretion by field inspectors.
Preventative Controls and HARPC Rule:
1. “Very small facilities” should be defined as being under $1 million in total annual sales, adjusted for inflation. This is the minimum size that USDA estimates is necessary for a food hub to be a viable business, and imposing HARPC requirements on businesses smaller than that is unnecessary and overly burdensome.
2. Any requirement for “supplier verification” should not prevent a facility from purchasing foods or ingredients from farms and facilities that are exempt from the regulations under the Tester-Hagan provision or other exemptions.
3. Low-risk activities conducted by a farm using its own products, such as making jams, grinding grains, or dehydrating vegetables, should not be subject to these regulations.
4. Low-risk activities, when conducted off-farm or by multiple farms working together, should not be subject to the same requirements as high-risk processing activities. The requirements should address both the scale of the operations and the level of risk of the activity.
Organic Consumers Association
Love your local farms, farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)? They could be in trouble thanks to burdensome new rules proposed under the Food Safety & Modernization Act (FSMA).
Unless the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) agrees to some
key changes in the FSMA, the law will erect new barriers for small and
mid-scale farmers and processors who have been successfully creating
local markets – restaurants, co-ops, groceries, schools – for their
locally grown produce. And if the rules don't drive local growers out of
business, they will surely drive up the price of local food.
Please sign our letter by November 15. Tell the FDA: FSMA puts small and mid-scale farmers and processors at a competitive disadvantage against corporate farmers and producers who can more easily absorb costs, fees and fines. Please revise the FSMA to level the playing field for small growers. We need to encourage local, organic and sustainable agriculture. As written, the FSMA promotes the corporate, industrial food and farming model that is a hazard to human health and the environment.
The FSMA was signed into law in 2011. But only recently has the FDA proposed new rules that create requirements for every aspect of growing and harvesting fruits, vegetables and nuts – requirements that include costly and burdensome reporting and hazard analysis controls.
The FDA is accepting comments on the proposed new rules until November 15. Please submit your comments today!
Background: Small, local growers are not the problem
The organic fruits, vegetables and nuts you buy from local farmers have never created a food safety problem. Most food safety disasters have originated from large-scale, industrial farming and processing operations – the very operations that stand to benefit from the FSMA!
For example, the 2006 outbreak of E. coli that sickened more than 200 people in 26 states was traced to spinach sourced from an industrial grower, Natural Selection Foods, in California's Salinas Valley.
Ironically, after the 2006 spinach scandal, food writer Michael Pollan predicted the FDA would come up with new regulations that would likely hurt small, local producers:
"So what happens to the spinach grower at my farmers' market when the FDA starts demanding a Haccp plan — daily testing of the irrigation water, say, or some newfangled veggie-irradiation technology? When we start requiring that all farms be federally inspected? Heavy burdens of regulation always fall heaviest on the smallest operations and invariably wind up benefiting the biggest players in an industry, the ones who can spread the costs over a larger output of goods…
"It's easy to imagine the F.D.A. announcing a new rule banning animals from farms that produce plant crops. In light of the threat from E. coli, such a rule would make a certain kind of sense. But it is an industrial, not an ecological, sense. For the practice of keeping animals on farms used to be, as Wendell Berry pointed out, a solution; only when cows moved onto feedlots did it become a problem."
The FSMA gives the FDA sweeping new powers over fruit, vegetable and nut production. But it doesn't address meat and dairy farms, which are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wouldn't it make more sense to crack down on factory farms, which pose known threats to human health and the environment?
Instead, the proposed FSMA rules threaten basic, time-honored organic and sustainable agriculture practices – practices that farmers have used for hundreds of years, including:
• The use of natural fertilizers, like compost and manure
• Raising vegetables and animals on the same farm
• The use of natural water sources for irrigation
The FSMA also proposes a Preventive Controls rule that requires any business that packs, holds, processes or manufactures food to create a Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Control plan, which can cost up to $20,000 for a small operation in the first year alone. Who would be affected?
• Any farm that dehydrates, pickles or mills its produce
• Two or more farms that run a joint CSA and handle or store each other's produce (even if they do no processing)
• "Food hubs" that distribute food from multiple local producers
Sign our letter today. Tell the FDA: Please protect our local farms, farmers markets and CSAs. Revise the FSMA to level the playing field for small growers. We need to encourage local, organic and sustainable agriculture.