Have you ever written to a government agency on an issue you care about?
If you’re interested in local farming, and minimal use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, now is a good time to write to the The Food and Drug Administration.
In 2011, the FDA updated its food safety regulations with the most comprehensive overhaul in seventy years, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They are still working out the kinks. Anyone with an opinion is invited to comment before December 15, 2014.
Here are the new rules in their entirety. If you don’t have time to wade through all of that, Scribbler is here to help.
About fifty years ago, we made a U-turn in how we grow food. We introduced nitrogen fertilizers and new practices that allowed us to exponentially increase the amount of food we produce.
We are a long way, however, from understanding how best to grow food for billions of people. Scientists are discovering practices that encourage microbial activity in the soil, and are healthier and safer than some of the chemical-based practices most farmers use. Until we know more, farmers who work and experiment with soil, water conservation, composting and organic methods need to be allowed — encouraged — to continue. The new FDA rules will make that difficult. Some farms could inadvertently be put out of business.
Here’s what’s important for organic and small farms:
1. Farms vs. Facilities
When food producers get big enough, the FDA stops defining them as “farms” and starts calling them “facilities.” The new rules update standards that facilities, i.e., large institutions, must comply with. Farms have separate requirements, designed for smaller operations.
The new definitions of what qualifies as a facility and what is a farm are fuzzy. For instance, small farmers who work jointly to store and package what they produce, or who have plots of land that are not contiguous, might be inappropriately classified as facilities.
According to laws passed by Congress, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSA’s) are farms, not facilities, but the FDA rules don’t make that clear. Small farmers who decide to, say, add a U-pick strawberry business that brings in $5000, might find themselves subject to rules requiring putting together and maintaining an expensive Food Safety Plan. To understand what that means, have a look here. The plan could cost more than the income from the strawberries.
2. Due Process
Legal remedies and processes need to be clarified. If a grower’s status is changed, say a “farm” gets classified as a “facility,” there is no requirement for prior notice, leaving farmers no opportunity to correct the problem. The agency also doesn’t have to list reasons for a change in status, and there is no clear path to appeal the FDA’s decisions. All these issues need to be addressed.
3. Soil Amendments
The words “compost” and “manure” don’t appear in the new food safety rules, but they are in the subtext. Here’s a good breakdown of new rules governing soil amendments. Basically, the FDA is trying to prevent crops from being contaminated with bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. The trouble is, the new FDA rules conflict with those of the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. There is disagreement about how long compost tea and manure fertilizers must be cured before they can be applied. The science is not clear. The National Organic Program, which was adopted after many months of research and public comment, in cooperation with the National Organics Standards Board (part of the USDA), should be the standard.
Water is different everywhere, and the quality needed for safe drinking and swimming, is not the same as what’s needed to safely grow food. The FDA is proposing narrow rules that set one standard for all water use, both recreational and farming. This will lead to over-use of chemical water treatments. The rules need to be flexible to accommodate water in different geographical areas, and for different kinds of water use.
5. Sound off
It’s not just mega businesses that control what happens in Washington. When enough people speak up, policy makers respond. Witness the influence of the Tea Party, and the delay of Keystone Pipeline. The FMSA itself is being revised because of a huge response from the public. If you want to send a comment or statement to the FDA, here are instructions. Several sites also have templates and more information. See The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and the Friends of Family Farmers.
Do you follow the ins and outs of rule-making about how we grow food? Have anything to add about the FDA’s new proposals?