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FSMA comes under fire

Nov. 26, 2013 | 0 comments


Opposition continues to mount against a complex federal overhaul of food safety rules, regulations and approved practices.

Organic farmers generally oppose the new regulations against manure application. Some farm groups say if these new rules get implemented they would hurt small and medium-sized farming operations.

During a recent meeting of the policy board for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Secretary Ben Brancel said every state's Department of Agriculture is asking that the new policy package be delayed for at least a year so that major changes can be made.

The Food and Drug Administration (FSA) proposed new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) after a number of high-profile food contamination incidents involving peanuts, spinach, sprouts, melons and imported foods.

Congress passed the FSMA in 2010. It is the first major overhaul of food safety legislation in more than 70 years.

But many farm and food groups believe the rule package has gone too far.

Brancel said that the rule package is so complicated and involved that many groups find it hard to see how the regulations can be implemented. "Parts of it won't work" and many state agriculture secretaries and commissioners believe it's going to hurt small growers and processors, he said.

Congress pushed for a "modernization" of the FDA, he said, and the agency convinced Congress that it had to make wholesale changes in the way it operates. The new rule package gives FDA a lot more authority.

"The organic community says it will prevent them from having organic products. Food safety coalitions in Washington have been pushing the FDA very, very, very hard to implement this," says Brancel.

The secretary said the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) has spent more time on this topic than any other in the seven years he's been a member. It's a group that includes the secretaries or commissioners of agriculture from each state.

Some state agriculture secretaries who are generally quiet have sprung to action on this topic. One invited the FDA to the state office to explain how the new regulations would work and afterward they were more opposed to it than before, says Brancel.

The rules have a food regulatory side but there is also another aspect that will regulate animal feed, he said, and that is just beginning.

Steve Ingham, who administers food safety programs at DATCP, showed board members a three-page flow chart from the FDA that attempts to illustrate exemptions from food facility and mixed facilities under the rule.

"Makes you want to go into business doesn't it?" he said.

Its complexities have smaller producers worried about whether or not they can even stay in business. One Wisconsin carrot grower told Ingham he'd probably quit growing the vegetables if the rule goes into effect.

Regulated out of business

Wisconsin Farmers Union is one group of many groups that has weighed in on the proposed FSMA. President Darin Von Ruden said he appreciates what the FDA is trying to do with these rules, but he is concerned that some of them have gone too far.

"Some of these rules could potentially have devastating effects on small and medium sized produce farmers."

Two of the pending rules for FSMA, the Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (Produce Rule) and the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls For Human Food (Preventive Controls Rule), have attracted the most attention from WFU's family farmer members.

Von Ruden said some of the rules are over burdensome and conflict with other Federal standards.

"These rules will regulate a local CSA farm the same as a large food processing plant. These small farms cannot afford these types of expensive regulations and many could be forced to cease their operations."

His group is also concerned about the definition of facilities in the rule, the basis for testing requirements for agricultural water, regulations preventing harvesting if wild animals were in farm fields, as well as the regulation on manure spreading manure, said Von Ruden.

Brancel said one of the issues in the rule involves spreading manure as fertilizer on fields used to grow vegetables. Wisconsin's short growing season, combined with these new rules, could make it impossible for growers to meet the new requirements.

Manure is the fertilizer of choice for the state's thriving organic vegetable business.

Wisconsin Farmers Union was one of many that filed comments on the rule.

"We hope the FDA takes a close look at these comments and will take appropriate action so that farmers are not regulated out of business."

The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute believes the draft rules are trying to make smaller and organic food producers fit a model that is more appropriate for bigger, more commercial systems.

Will Fantle, co-director of the institute said the proposed rules "saddle local and organic family-scale farmers with unnecessary and expensive prevention practices more appropriate for riskier industrial processing and distribution systems.

"And the draft rules fail to address a health-control strategy for the primary source of many of the fecal-generated pathogens — industrial-scale feedlots and livestock facilities," he added.

Sustainability impacted

In comments it submitted on the rule, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) said food safety goals should be advanced, but these rules will hurt sustainable agriculture and food systems.

"Our comments on the proposed regulations reflect the concerns of sustainable and organic farmers and food businesses that are pioneering farming practices and food supply chains to increase consumer access to healthy food, sustain the environment, and create new economic opportunities," said Ariane Lotti, NSAC's Assistant Policy Director.

As proposed, she said, the regulations will "severely restrict the use of sustainable farming practices, inhibit diversification and innovation in farming and short supply chains, and fail to provide workable, affordable options for family farmers."

Lotti said the proposed rule package fails to meet the intent of Congress for a "flexible approach that reflects different risks at different scales and supply chains."

Given the size and scope of serious problems in the proposed regulations and the lasting impacts they will have on the farm sector, NSAC joins the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the United Fresh Produce Association in urging FDA to issue a set of second proposed rules.

Throughout the comment period on these rules, FDA conducted listening sessions and farm tours to gather feedback and learn about how farmers and food businesses would be impacted by the proposals.

Lotti says she's grateful for that and hopes that in a second attempt at these rules the FDA will acknowledge that supporting "thriving local and regional food systems and ensuring a safe food supply are complementary, not competing goals."

At DATCP, Ingham said he feels that the regulations can be fixed. "I'm a pretty optimistic guy by nature. They'll get all these comments back and they'll have to pay attention to them.

"It may not be perfect, but it will be better."

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