Attention all eaters: Five things to know about new food safety rules

IMG_2846

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.

Unknown

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.

file7581274473609

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.

file5591253226186

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.

file000204086651

4. Water

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

Additional Resources: 

http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/small-farms-tech-report/centersfcfs_comments_fsmareproposal_11.19.14.pdf

http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/node/175900

http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/fda-publishes-new-food-safety-rules/

http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/?p=3736

http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

A Re-Focus on Food Safety

http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/learn-about-the-issues/manure-and-compost/

19 comments

  • So many changes with everything, how to keep up. I like the idea of farm to table and hadn’t thought about pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. Lots to chew over. Oops. Excuse the pun. 😮

    What does me in are the processed foods and the additives that are added for color, taste and shelf life. Ugh.

    Like

    • Grocery manufacturers are good at convincing my taste buds that certain foods are something I really, really need.

      Farm to table is good enough to tune into this one. Some of the people on the farm end of the equation might be in trouble if the rules are finalized as is.

      Like

      • I know farmers must make money not to go under. I read a great novel–wish I could remember the title–about an apple farmer and the different brands they were cultivating–and how his clothes looked when he came home after spraying the fields of apples against bugs etc. Became a walking corpse and what about his wife sleeping with him?

        Like

        • YES! A friend lent the book to me a while back. It was an eye-opener about pesticides and what we are eating as consumers if we don’t pay attention. On the other hand, I worry about the farmer doing his utmost to save his crops.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Oh my goodness Julia, does it ever end?!?! This subject gets my blood boiling my friend. Remember, I too have read the book, “The Orchard.” And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Have you and hubby watched GMO OMG on Netflix yet? It is a must see. The documentary was done very well. It isn’t gory at all. So worth the watch. You would like it since it’s based on saving our seeds. Although I is insane what the FDA is doing, but not unbelievable since most who head the FDA worked for Monsanto. Thanks for writing this post. People need to be informed. That’s why I like to follow Food Babe on FB and Natural Healthy Concepts. They both post great articles on these subjects. Anyway, stay healthy and enjoy local organic food!!!

    Like

  • Was that your mushrooms photo? The Pacific Northwest Coast is a wonderful place for all these wild mushrooms..some deadly.

    Like

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s