Do New Food Safety Rules Threaten Small Farmers?

NPR’s food and agriculture blogThe Saltrecently ran an article about new food safety rules and reports that some small New England farmers are concerned.

Is there anything to worry about?

Excerpt: Back in January, the Food and Drug Administration issued two proposed food safety rules to prevent tainted food from entering the food supply. According to these 1,600 pages of rules, farmers who don't qualify for exemptions must monitor and document water quality, freezer temperatures, encroaching wildlife and any other possible sources of contamination. But some small farmers are worried their businesses will be killed by paperwork and expensive monitoring systems required by the law.  At the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, Caroline Smith DeWaal says small farmers are overreacting. “These are common-sense safety measures they need to be taking anyway,” DeWaal says. DeWaal says commercial growers and grocers see real revenue loss after big outbreaks. That's why they've been fighting for these new food safety rules. But small farmers — especially in New England — tell a different story.

At his farm just outside Montpelier, Vt., Joe Buley says he’s terrified. He grows cucumbers that he turns into gazpacho and chilled cucumber dill soup. Buley says the cost of complying with the FDA’s new rules would stifle his ability to grow, and could put younger farmers out of the business altogether. 

Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, says most farmers who sell less than $500,000 of product each year are at least partially exempt. “Together, those exemptions exempt from these new produce safety rules 110,000 of the 190,000 produce operations in this country — that’s almost 60 percent,” Taylor says.

The problem is all the exceptions to the exemptions, especially for small farmers who don’t just farm, but say, turn a cucumber or tomato harvest into soups and sauces. Buley says it’s doing things like storing or processing produce that can disqualify farmers from those exemptions.

But for all the anxiety the new rules have stirred up among small farmers, the FDA still lacks funding from Congress to enforce them. Without that funding, farmers like Buley, who want to sell to mainstream supermarkets, may find it’s grocery stores anxious about lost revenue — not the feds — who are demanding they comply.

1 Comment on Do New Food Safety Rules Threaten Small Farmers?

  1. The bottom line is if you make your customers sick you’re out of business. Having just finished the GAP and food safety plan for our farm, it’s really not that bad, and it’s things you should be doing anyway. Our customers will appreciate the fact that we have plans in place should something go wrong. It’s not all bad, really.

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