FDA’s Sweeping Powers May Halt the Local Food Movement
In recent years the local food movement and public awareness of local food has grown by leaps and bounds. Seen as being a way to benefit the community, the local economy, the environment, and a way to eat healthier, the backbone of the local food movement is the small farmer who many times sells direct to their customers. These smaller farmers work on generally exponentially smaller scales than their conventional agriculture counterparts.
The proliferation of farmer’s markets, increasing requests made to grocers for local products, and growing interest among restaurants in having farmers’ names on their menus are all indicative of this increasing trend. However, a law that is taking effect gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sweeping powers that may kill the local food movement in its tracks.
Signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years. The law aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. It is a long overdue law that protects the public. The law, when first written, failed to take into account the difference in scale between huge 10,000 acre farming operations and the small 10 acre local farmer.
This caused a public uproar and a coalition of farmers, sustainable farming advocates, and consumers worked to get changes made in the law. Senators Jon Tester and Kay Hagan sponsored two amendments that became part of the law which excluded many small farmers from the FDA’s oversight. Even with the two amendments though, the costs for small farms could still be steep and will create an environment that will discourage young people from starting to farm and will keep established farmers from expanding operations.
Essentially the law as written will deter farmers from using sustainable farming practices and conflicts with existing federal organic standards and conservation programs; diversified and innovative farms , particularly those pioneering models for increased access to healthy, local foods will be stifled; and it will not treat family farms fairly, without due process and burdens them with excessive costs. Even though the spirit of the law was to protect the public from food borne illness, in reality the FSMA will give the FDA powers to over- regulate a burgeoning and important industry to the point of rendering it moot.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has come up with the top 10 problems with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed food safety regulations for farmers and local food businesses:
- They’re too expensive. The rules could cost farmers over half of their profits and will keep beginners from starting to farm.
- They treat farmers unfairly.FDA is claiming broad authority to revoke small farmers’ protections without any proof of a public health threat.
- They will reduce access to fresh, healthy food. Local food distributors like food hubs could close, and new food businesses will not launch.
- They make it harder for farms to diversify. Grain, dairy, and livestock farmers could be denied access to emerging local food markets.
- They will over-regulate local food. The rules could consider farmers markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs “manufacturing facilities” subject to additional regulation.
- They treat pickles like a dangerous substance. The rules fail to protect a host of low-risk processing activities done by smaller farms and processors.
- They make it nearly impossible to use natural fertilizers like manure and compost. Farmers will be pushed to use chemicals instead of natural fertilizers.
- They require excessive water testing on farms. Farmers using water from streams and lakes will be required to pay for weekly water tests regardless of risk or cost.
- They could harm wildlife and degrade our soil and water. The rules could force farmers to halt safe practices that protect our natural resources and wildlife.
- Bonus: there’s at least one good thing about the rules. The rules take an ‘integrated’, not a ‘commodity-specific’ approach – meaning farmers won’t face over 30 separate rules for each kind of fresh produce they grow. FDA needs to keep this good decision in the final rules!
Currently, the FDA is in what is known as the rulemaking stage. This means they are turning the bill as passed by Congress into actual rules and regulations. If the proposed rules become final without significant changes there will be less fresh, local produce at restaurants, on grocery store shelves, in schools and at farmers markets.
There is still time for the public to weigh in on the law. The FDA has released their proposed (draft) regulations for public comment as part of this process and anybody who wants to submit comments pertaining to the Food Safety and Modernization Act has until November 15, 2013 to do so. Several groups have been on the forefront of getting the word out and they have much more information on the wording of the law as well as what you can do to notify the FDA on how you feel about it.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s list of the top 10 problems with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed food safety regulations for farmers and local food businesses, along with details and citations for each:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also has much more information and a letter template for both farmers and consumers to help craft a letter explaining exactly why the law should be changed: http://sustainableagriculture.net/
The Illinois Stewardship Alliance has information pertaining to the law and what can be done by the public: http://www.ilstewards.org/
Buy Fresh Buy Local is connecting consumers in communities throughout the country to locally grown and locally produced foods.