(My apologies that I am sending this to you so late, but I have had a crazy travel schedule to California and have spent an inordinate amount of time offline. Blog posts about my West Coast trip are coming soon, however.)
PUBLIC COMMENTS ARE DUE TODAY – DECEMBER 15TH
In response to recent widespread, and sometimes deadly, outbreaks of foodborne illness, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) charging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with improving its oversight of the food industry.
Last year, the FDA released a draft of its new policy and an overwhelming number of our comments forced the agency to re-write the rules. This demonstrates that speaking up does have an impact!
The FDA has now released a new version of the rules, which addresses many of our concerns.
However, a number of pitfalls for farmers remain in the new draft, which will also impact consumers of local, organic food purchased at farmers markets, CSAs and co-op grocers. For some small organic farmers, these rules have the potential to put them out of business.
While there are many problems in the new draft, here are a few of the biggest ones. (To read about everything in much greater detail, click HERE to go to the Cornucopia Institute’s website.)
1) Definition of a “Farm”
The FDA needs to clarify that farms are not “facilities,” and to ensure that farmer-operated businesses that engage in “farm” activities — growing, harvesting, packing, or holding raw agricultural commodities — are clearly considered farms, not food processing businesses.
The FDA should remove the phrase “in one general physical location” from the farm definition, to reflect the fact that farms are not always contiguous and that farms may include structures in different locations or on different parcels of land; this working structure does not increase the risk of foodborne illness.
FDA should remove the phrase “under one ownership” to reflect the fact that farmers may join together in food hubs and cooperatives to market their products without increasing the risk of foodborne illness.
- Tell the FDA that farms are not facilities, and the regulations should allow for non-contiguous locations and not discriminate against cooperatives and food hubs.
The FDA admits that the cost of compliance with their proposed rules will be high for farmers, as much as $12,384 for farms with sales of $500,000 or less. This regulatory burden, particularly given some of the questionable testing protocols, is an unacceptable imposition of financial hardship on producers with no history of food safety problems.
- Tell the FDA their draft proposal will endanger the livelihoods of organic farmers and the access of their customers to safe and nutritionally superior local and organic food.
3) Tester-Hagen and Food Safety Rule Exemptions for Small/Medium Local Farms:
One hard-won gain by farmers and real food advocates, with the original passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by Congress, was the Tester-Hagan Amendment. Tester-Hagan exempted small-scale, direct-marketing farmers and facilities from some of the new requirements imposed under FSMA. These provisions are necessary for protecting vulnerable, small-scale producers that are providing safe, healthy food for their local communities.
The FDA improperly bases the size requirements for qualifying for the Tester-Hagan exemption (established by Congress as $500,000 in annual sales) on all the food sold by the producer – not just the produce subject to the agency’s jurisdiction or regulated under FSMA.
For example, a grass-fed beef producer with a small orchard who sells $600,000 in beef and $30,000 in fruit would be subject to all of the new costly FSMA requirements for growing and harvesting $30,000 worth of produce — even though the FSMA does not regulate beef!
The determination of the Tester-Hagan exemption should be applied only to the sale of produce covered under the food safety rules.
- Tell the FDA that the exemption from the food safety rules, guaranteed by Tester-Hagan, must be respected and determined by the sale of produce covered by the rule, not the total sale of all food grown and raised on a farm.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
As I mentioned above, comments are due by the end of day today, December 15th. So, please take action immediately to protect organic farmers and consumers.
You can comment online, but be sure to do so at BOTH of these locations as the regulations impacting family scale farmers are intertwined in each of these FDA dockets:
You can take the comments above – the ones in bold and italics – and copy/paste them into the two sites above. Please personalize them a little bit, so everyone’s comments are not the same.
Thank you so much for protecting organic food.
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