By Annette Higby, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. For more information on the Food Safety issue from NSAC Visit: http://sustainableagriculture.net/category/food-safety/
While we all cheer this Administration’s emerging emphasis on local and regional food production, let’s not forget that the Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510) now on its way to the Senate floor could erect a formidable barrier to those markets for many small and moderate sized farms.
The Act would considerably ramp up FDA regulation on farms that even minimally process their crops and sell them to restaurants, food coops, groceries, schools or to wholesale markets. The new regulatory burdens would include recordkeeping for traceability, developing and implementing expensive food safety plans, regular on-farm FDA inspections, and, if the House has its way, hefty annual inspection fees.
This legislation casts a shadow over a broad swath of family farm value-added production and on farm processing. Many farmers unable to bear the costs of compliance will be shut out of these important new markets. By failing to focus FDA regulation on processing activities that present the most risk for food borne pathogen contamination, this bill could needlessly throttle an increasingly important engine for rural economic development and rural revitalization. In its zeal to protect consumer health, Congress could instead stifle a healthy shift in diet to more fresh and local foods.
One of the best ideas for improving this legislation has been introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The Stabenow Amendment is called the Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758) and it would create a national food safety training and technical assistance program. This competitive grants program would deliver training and technical assistance appropriate to sustainable and organic farmers and small food processors to reduce the incidence of food borne illness. If you value safe, local, and healthy food, please call your Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor the Growing Safe Food Act.
NSAC has already won a number of key changes to this legislation and we will continue to push for improvements. We can’t let rules designed to address serious food safety deficiencies in our industrial food system shut down the move toward healthy, natural and local food.
The Food Safety Modernization Act could be brought to the Senate floor on a moment’s notice – this month or later this year.