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Friday, September 13, 2013
Some local farmers are concerned that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) could cause economic hardship for small family farms. The cost of complying with the regulations could not only put them out of business, but limit the public’s ability to buy locally grown produce, according to Tenley Weaver of Good Food-Good People.
FSMA is the first comprehensive update of federal food-safety laws since 1938. According to the National Institutes of Health, 48 million people in the United States get sick from contaminated food every year. These illnesses are commonly caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses. The symptoms range from mild stomach upset to deadly dehydration.
Congress started to address the issue in 2009. The end result was the FSMA, which expands the Food and Drug Administration’s reach to include the prevention of food-safety problems. The new regulations are for produce only and do not include meat, poultry or eggs. These products remain under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The FSMA sets standards for produce production and food safety measures for facilities that process food. It does not tackle the issue of the safety of genetically engineered crops.
Good Food-Good People of Floyd links growers to customers through Community Supported Agriculture, which serves the Roanoke and New River Valleys. In a newsletter to its Community Supported Agriculture customers, Weaver said she supports regulations and inspections to keep food safe, but is concerned the cost could wipe out the small family farms of her growers.
“The FDA claims that the cost of compliance for a ‘very small farm’ ($25,000-$250,000 gross) may amount to around $5,000 per year, for a ‘small farm’ ($250,000-500,000 gross) around $13,000 per year, and for a ‘large farm’ (over $500,000/year) over $30,000 per year,” said Weaver in the newsletter.
“More realistically, however, the United Fresh Produce Association estimates costs at a significantly higher level, expecting the smaller farm category producers to spend over $20,000 in start up expenses and an additional $10,000 on an annual basis to remain certified.”
The expense to the “very small farms” that make up area CSAs and sell at local farmers markets could be a burden too heavy to bear. So what is lost if these growers cannot afford to grow?
“We lose a lot. We lose access to fresh healthy vegetables,” said Ariane Lotti assistant policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “We lose access to products and produce grown by small and mid-sized farms. We lose economic opportunities that local food systems present to beginning farmers and essentially we anticipate a slowing down of the local food system if these rules are not properly implemented.
“This will impact farmers of all sizes and all types even though there are modified requirements for small farms,” continued Lotti. “There are a number of issues with the proposed rules, and one of the biggest issues for sustainable and organic farmers is the standards around the use of manure and compost. The FDA is proposing a very long interval between raw manure and harvest.”
The rules vary depending on the size of the farm and the markets these farms sell to; for example a farmer selling directly to the consumer may face different regulations than a grower selling to institutions. Smaller farms selling directly to the consumer are less of a public risk than the larger operations that ship food across the country, Lotti said.
“One of the key priorities in these regulations for us is to make sure the FDA focuses on areas of high risk” explained Lotti. “If you look at different types of supply chains and different types of farming operations they come with different types of risks. We want them to focus their attention and resources on the highest risk operations.”
For more information, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm.
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