We all share the responsibility of keeping our food supply safe, from farm to table. The federal government’s new farm bill will unfairly burden family farmers, target sustainable and organic farming, reduce the availability of fresh, local food in our communities, and have negative consequences for the environment. You can voice your opposition to the Food Safety Modernization Act by signing the petition at farmaid.org.
The first major overhaul of food-handling practices in the United States since 1938, the new legislation was created in response to a rise in food-borne illness cases and passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2011. The Food Safety Modernization Act establishes standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce for human consumption. The proposed standards are designed to prevent food safety problems, detect and respond to food safety issues, and improve the safety of imported foods by focusing on commonly identified routes of microbial contamination of produce, including agricultural water, farm worker hygiene, manure and other additions to the soil, animals in growing areas, and equipment and buildings.
Unfortunately, the livelihood and future of small family farms is at stake under the new farm bill. In addition to limiting access to locally grown food, compliance with the new protocols will likely threaten wildlife habitats and increase in the use chemicals rather than natural fertilizers.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is responsible for implementing the legislation that will likely have costly implications for farms with yearly food sales exceeding $500,000. This figure is worrisome because many farms can claim only a small percentage of its annual sales as actual income.
Opponents to the farm bill claim there are many problems with it. Many are frustrated that it does not focus on the parts of the food system that have posed the highest risk to consumers in recent years, such as concentrated animal farmer operations that are well-known sources of environmental pathogens.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the top nine problems with FSMA for farmers and local food businesses are as follows:
1. They’re too expensive. The rules could cost farmers over half of their profits and will keep beginners from starting to farm.
2. They treat farmers unfairly. FDA is claiming broad authority to revoke small farmers’ protections without any proof of a public health threat.
3. They will reduce access to fresh, healthy food. Local food distributors like food hubs could close, and new food businesses will not launch.
4. They make it harder for farms to diversify. Grain, dairy, and livestock farmers could be denied access to emerging local food markets.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. They make it nearly impossible to use natural fertilizers like manure and compost. Farmers will be pushed to use chemicals instead of natural fertilizers.
8. 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.
9. 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.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition does highlight at least one good change in the new law: It takes an integrated approach, rather than commodity-specific. This means farmers won’t face more than 30 separate rules for each kind of fresh produce.
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