Friday, March 13, 2009

FSA Not new...

I have been reading a lot about HR 875 and it really does scare me. As I saw posted on the Seed Saver's Exchange message board, opposing the bill is like whispering into a hurricane.

But the idea is not new. I found this USA today article written during the e. coli spinach outbreak of 2006. The interesting thing is that at the time the FDA said "the system is working." Now a new food borne illness out break brings new calls as people fear peanut butter, that most American of all foods!

The problem is that small farms are NOT the problem. You do not hear of food illnesses linked to small farms, but it is small farms who would be most impacted. Large companies and agribusiness can meet new requirements as only a small annoyance. But for US, for small farms, the burden is perhaps un-surmountable.

In order for our voices to be heard we need to stand in the hurricane, and shout. It seems impossible that by summer farmers markets and CSAs could be quasi legal, but unless we stop this bill NOW that may be the case.

Let your friends know about this, and when they tell you that a bill like this is impossible, not in this country, make sure they understand that unless we stand up it IS POSSIBLE and it will happen. Look for an example at the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, written to limit lead in children's toys by testing requirements which basically made homemade toys illegal, overnight.

Some say we have less then two weeks to fight this...


Beth said...

Hi Heather-

I received this two days ago from the national organization the Farmers' Market Coalition. It is a letter from their executive director. I thought you would find it pertinent. If folks have frustrations with the bill, it's best to contact your representatives or those sponsoring a bill to let them know. As "we the people," it is our responsibility as citizens to let our representatives know our concerns and hold them accountable instead of just throwing in the towel and lamenting the situation.

Beth Knorr

Dear Fellow Farmers Market Advocate,

In the last few days, there has been much discussion and speculation surrounding H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, which was proposed by Representative Rosa DeLauro and 39 other co-sponsors and currently under review by two house committees. The bill’s intention is to centralize most of the current food safety responsibilities of FDA and USDA into one new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. While the bill does not spell out any specific regulations with respect to food safety, it establishes a new framework of oversight to prevent the breakout of food-borne illnesses (like the recent cases involving bagged spinach, peanuts, tainted meat, imported tomatoes, etc.).

Calls to Congresswoman DeLauro’s office from me and several colleagues have been met by assurances that she is an advocate for small family farms, and that the bill’s intent is to minimize (or eliminate) the impact on such entities while addressing the challenges posed by a global food supply by more closely regulating imported food. Based on what we know at this point, farmers markets are not considered “food establishments” under Section 3 (13), and would not be subject to inspection as such.

Food production facilities (including farms), may be subject to additional recordkeeping via a written food safety plan which follow “good practice standards” under Section 206(2). There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system, or mandate farm inspection. In fact, the legislation specifies that technical assistance would be provide to farmers and food establishments that fit the definition of a small business.

There are also no assurances that, given the current economic climate and the inherent cost of establishing a new administration, this bill will even survive in its current form or at all. To what degree there may be any change to current standards (like GAPs), which are now voluntary for most growers, would be up to the new agency, which is directed to consult with USDA and state departments of agriculture before enacting any new farm production and handling standards. FMC believes that any standards designed to prevent contamination at the farm and market level, whether voluntary or mandatory, must take into account the cost, time, and ability to implement. As many realize, a one-size-fits-all policy would ultimately do a disservice not only to small, biodiverse farms, but to the consumers who value affordable access to safe, fresh, nutritious food directly from the farmer.

FMC recognizes the importance of food safety not only from a consumer health perspective, but also to uphold the integrity of farmers markets and viability of small farms everywhere. Families and individuals across the country put their faith in the quality, safety, and freshness of farmers markets every day, and that investment of faith cannot be taken for granted. Proactive measures to prevent contamination at the farm and market level are good business. FMC's web site has links to several resources developed by various states with regard to food safety at farmers markets, many of which include good recommendations for food storage, handling, and sampling.

FMC is working to ensure that strategies to prevent contamination are science-based, sensitive to scale of production, and friendly to farmers markets and the farmers they depend on. Recently, the Coalition represented farmers markets at a national Good Agricultural Practices summit to support voluntary (rather than mandatory) implementation of the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, which is presently undergoing review for updates. We will continue to stay involved in issues surrounding food safety, and keep you informed of developments that could impact farmers markets and their producers.


Stacy Miller

Executive Director
Farmers Market Coalition

CSA Farmer Girl said...

Thanks Beth for your comment. My concern is that the bill is so open ended who know what it could mean in 5 years. What if, heaven forbid, a CSA or farm market based food outbreak occur and a couple children get really sick or even die. The framework will be in place to quickly and efficiently "deal with the situation" by regulation not legislation. My mind goes to pastirization requirements for cider. Overnight the game could change. That is my concern.