Get out and vote… for small family farms

It’s election day… so I am indulging myself with a political post. After you return from your polling place, I’m asking you to spend 15 minutes getting up to speed with the proposed new regulations of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA for short). The commenting period ends November 15, so don’t wait. Really: do it today. Vote for small family farms.

I learned about the concerns with the FSMA from the folks at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, who were on hand at Farm Aid back in September. NSAC’s tenet is that the shorter distance food has to travel from farm to market, the safer it is and the less likely it is to be exposed to contaminants. Close-to-home farming also eliminates problems of scale like the e. coli contamination of Earthbound Farms organic lettuce a few years back which sickened people across the nation.

The intent of the FSMA was to make the FDA proactive, instead of reactive, in handling problems in food safety. But it adopts a one-size-fits-all approach that makes many of its proposed new rules impractical and/or expensive for small farmers practicing the close-to-home distribution I just described. According to the FDA’s own calculations, food producers with 20 or fewer employees would bear 73% of the cost of implementing the preventative controls—even though they produce just 4% of the food produced in the U.S. (There is an exemption for farms that sell less that $25,000 a year in produce, but that’s a REALLY small farm and not sufficient to sustain a family.)

Here are a couple examples of well-meaning regulations that make me queasy:

If a farm uses manure to amend its fields and there is a “chance” covered produce will come into contact with the amendment after application, there is a 9-month waiting period before produce grown in those fields can be marketed. In many parts of the country, like upstate New York where I live, the growing season is less than 9 months long. So effectively farmers could only grow crops every other year.

If a farmers market vendor sells food they haven’t raised or produced themselves, that turns them into a “facility” which is subject to a host of new regulations. No more taking the neighbor farm’s cheese to market where you sell your own eggs. (You can also be labeled a facility if you “process” your food by, for example, slicing raw carrots into your farmers market salad mix.)

The FDA has made it very easy to comment on the proposed regulations which you can do here. They reported an “unprecedented” 800 comments for the Produce Safety part of the law, where comments are now closed, and promise to read and consider them in amending the rules.

Or, if you’re short on time, you can simply sign the Farm Aid petition that essentially tells the FDA that you expect them to do the right thing. Either way, thank you for reading and voting.

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