Ever heard of the Food Safety & Modernization Act? It’s a 2011law that’s meant to help make our food safer and prevent contamination. While we all want safer food, the law contains many provisions that cater to huge agribusinesses while doing serious economic harm to small-scale family farmers. Check out these updates and then find out how to take action below:
The landscape of North Carolina’s farming industry could change if new food-safety regulations take effect. The changes come as a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says will prevent almost two million food-borne illnesses.
But the additional requirements will cost small farmers as much as half of their annual profits and Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, says it could force many farmers out of business. “These proposed rules are throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he maintains.
It’s expenses such as this that worry Scott Marlow, an agricultural economist who heads the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for small family farms.
Marlow’s not a fan of FSMA, in particular because he believes that, in the end, large farm organizations will have an easier time finding the money to adhere to the regulations than the small farmers he represents.
“There is no way for us to eliminate the existence of pathogens; it’s not going to happen,” he said. “What we need to do is design a way of getting product safely from farms to people.
“But the way that FSMA is being implemented is by increasing the regulatory burden. It becomes a fixed cost that’s high, and it becomes harder to do for small producers.”
Marlow said the law is also the problem, for reasons related to cost.
“Let’s look at where the food-safety outbreaks have come from,” he said. “Are they coming from small-scale producers? No. They’re coming form the large-scale plants, the large-scale peanut processor in Georgia, the large-scale salad producers in California.”
“Smaller-scale producers are not viable because they can’t absorb that added fixed cost. So you have one plant that everyone has to go to,” Marlow said, explaining that having everyone processing through a large plant increases the chances of cross-contamination.
“If I buy beef direct from a farmer and his beef has E. coli, I get sick and my family gets sick and that’s it,” he said. “But if that farmer sends that cow to a processing plant that handles thousands of cows a day, then thousands of cows and, subsequently, thousands of people get exposed to it.”
Marlow said the goal should be to create a process that minimizes the possibility of cross-contamination, and that, in many cases, smaller is better.
So if the law was already passed, what can we do? Well, the regulations are still being written, and the Food & Drug Administration (the body charged with implementing the new law) is accepting public comments until November 15. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the FSMA rules are still in proposed, not final, form – which means that there is a critical opportunity for farmers, processors, and consumers affected by the new rules to weigh in with input to FDA. Before FDA can finalize the proposed rules, the agency must seek input from the public.
Your voice will make a difference and help keep small sustainable farms in business here in North Carolina.