Editorial: Ballot on Food Safety

11/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

Well, another Election Day has come and gone. Hopefully, most of you have done your civic duty and voted. If you haven’t, it’s your loss. But if you’re at all interested in food safety, circle next Friday, Nov. 15, on your calendar.

That’s the last day the federal government will be taking comments on the produce safety and preventive control rules of the 2011 Food Safety and Modernization Act, FSMA.

As of this writing, the FDA has received more than 2,000 comments on the produce rule alone, with thousands more on the preventive control rules.

The potential impact of the produce rule for farmers will be huge. According to the government, the average “very small” farm, which it defines as a farm whose annual food sales are less than $250,000, would incur nearly $5,000 in additional costs to comply with the regulations.

Those costs would increase to $12,292 for farms with food sales not exceeding $500,000 and $30,566 for farms whose food sales exceed $500,000 annually.

Now these are just estimates, and there are bound to be variations. Farms with annual food sales under $25,000 will be exempt altogether, and there will be other exemptions depending on where the product is sold in the marketplace.

But there will be many practical implications for farmers growing produce. There will be rules about how farmers use water for growing produce, including new testing requirements and recordkeeping.

There will also be rules concerning the use of manure and the time a farmer has to give before being able to plant crops where manure was spread.

Many producer groups, such as the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, have criticized the rules as too expensive and potentially damaging to the growth of smaller farm enterprises.

At a hearing earlier this year at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa., producers ranging from those closely involved with Plain Sect farmers to large fruit growers in Adams County, expressed concern over the cost of the regulations and their impact on farm operations.

The American Farm Bureau Federation doesn’t even want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involved in the development of food safety guidelines, instead preferring the USDA be designated as the lead agency in the effort.

Many farmers already adhere to GAP (good agricultural practice) requirements in order to sell produce to local supermarkets.

And groups such as the Lancaster County Vegetable Growers Association have taken proactive steps to ensure their member farmers are ready to adhere to GAP guidelines.

But many farmers remain skeptical, and rightly so, about the true impact these regulations will have on their farms.

If you are one of them, the best way you can express your concern is by posting a comment at regulations.gov.

Just like voting, your right to have your voice heard is only as good as the effort you make to exercise it.

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