The FDA’s food safety regulations were adjusted, but with those counter measurements, many within the small farming industry contended that it was also an opportunity for corporate agribusinesses to stomp out competition, especially the local farm to table and organic movements. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but to those on the inside tracks of small farming, the adjusted regulations created a danger to their very survival.
The FDA’s broad brushstroke regulations were in response to the new FSMA law President Obama signed in January 2011. (2) The FDA regulations caused many in the industry to claim that the FDA overreached in its interpretation of the law by creating regulations that overburdened small farming unnecessarily. Furthermore, it was argued that the FDA’s regulations would in truth threaten the continuation of the “safest food sources” in America.
Since the problems seen in food contamination didn’t originate with small farms but large scale “factory farms” and imported foods, small farms felt the FDA regulations were unfair. By addressing all farming operations with one generic regulation, opponents believed the FDA was not following the law’s intent.
The Tester-Hagan Exemption
In reaction to the FDA’s regulations for the FSMA, The Cornucopia Institute, “a nonprofit organization engaged in research and educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture” lobbied Congress, and FARFA (Farm And Ranch Freedom Alliance) helped to lead the national coalition to pass the “Tester-Hagan Amendment”. (3)
The amendment was passed by Congress and exempted farms with less than $500,000 in business from the FSMA law. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) supported the amendment that exempts farmers and food producers meeting the following criteria:
–> Under $25,000 annual sales
–> Or, annual gross sales less than $500,000 over a period of three years if half was sold directly to individuals, restaurants or retailers within same state or 275 mile radius
–> The grower can’t be more than one step removed from the final consumer
FDA Extends Comment Deadline and Tries To Reassure Growers
However, the latest 2013 FDA proposed food safety regulations appear to circumvent the amendment and have sparked another heated debate. So much so, that the FDA’s deadline for comments has been extended three times with the last extension to end on November 15, 2013. If the new rules are allowed to stand, they will basically make the Tester-Hagan Amendment null and void.
Michael Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods (aka FDA Food Safety Czar) is said to be conducting his “own national listening tour” and stated that the FDA is conducting an “environmental impact statement on the produce rule”. (4)
Taylor is the poster child for the “revolving door” employee, having worked for private industry and the federal government. He’s had three different employments (one indirectly) with mega Agri giant and GMO leader, Monsanto, one with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and two for the FDA, including his current position appointed by President Obama. His last employment with Monsanto was as the Vice President for Public Policy. (5)
New FDA Food Rules Threaten Future of Small Farms
Many believe that the FDA’s latest food safety regulations will also endanger the continuation of small farms. In effect, the FDA’s latest regulation bestows upon itself the power to force those exempt small growers to undergo expensive and time-consuming testing and tedious record-keeping on the same level as large factory farms.
Small farm advocates believe that such “unnecessary” and “stringent” regulations placed on small farms will make it too expensive for the growers to operate. Others contend that Big Agri’s control over the country’s food production stands to benefit from the proposed FDA rules since they will drive out the competition of organic, sustainable and small growers.
Accusations Against FDA and Big Agri
The Cornucopia Institute states that, “The FDA has wildly inflated the number of foodborne illnesses that originate from farm production (seed to harvest) rather than contamination that takes place later, in processing/distribution — in justifying supposed economic benefits from the new rules”. (6)
The Cornucopia Institute accuses the FDA of focusing on farming practices instead of addressing the processing practices that many industry experts agree pose the highest risk factor to the food supply and introduction of food-borne diseases. (6)
Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of blanket regulations that threaten to destroy many small farms, The Cornucopia Institute believes the FDA should address “high-risk areas and practices”. The finger is pointed toward CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) as the true culprit for pathogens contaminating the food supply and not just those in livestock factories. It’s argued that contaminated manure often finds its way into the food supply chain.
The institute has put out an alert for consumers, egg and produce farmers to protest the latest in “government overreaching”. Many opponents warn that, if allowed, the new regulations pave the way for Big Agri and will crush the small farmer in its wake.
The Cornucopia Institute stresses that there is a big difference between process practices and growing crops in the field. The institute states that it’s the food processing practices from farm to table that 90% of the contamination can be found for “fresh-cut/bagged salads, greens, and sprouts”. (6)
“Cornucopia might very well be headed to court over the governmental abuses in violating the spirit and letter of the organic law in regards to confining organic livestock (poultry).” (6)
Small farmer groups, sustainable farming groups and organic farmers are up in arms over this latest blow against farms that aren’t part of Big Agri. Organic farmers and farm to table growers lost their biggest champion within the USDA when Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the USDA, resigned earlier in 2013. (7)
When growers examine the new FDA proposed regulation against the Farmer Assurance Provision (called the Monsanto Protection Act) that protects Big Agri from lawsuits, it’s no wonder some feel as though the deck is being stacked against them. (8)
References & Image Credits:
(1) US Government Accountability Office
(3) Farm And Ranch Freedom Alliance
(4) Food Safety News
(9) bernat… via Compfight cc
(10) marfis75 via photopin cc