Urgent: Do you care about access to local, fresh foods?

by Catherine Haug, October 3, 2013; updated Oct 25, 2014 to removed malware links

I just received an email from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) about the new Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) rules that will negatively impact your access to local, fresh foods at farmers markets, roadside stands, local co-ops, and CSAs. Below is a copy of that email for your reference.

The FSMA is intended to focus the FDA on prevention of food-borne illness rather than reacting after the fact. In principle, this is a good idea, but some of the rules as written may unintentionally do harm to local, sustainable food production. The following issues are addressed in the comment guidelines provided by the NSAC, and in my customized letter:

  • Rules concerning fertilization go to far in restricting use of aged manure and compost;
  • Rules regarding farmers markets, CSAs, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer vendors and not clearly defined as retail food establishment, as required by the law, but rather could be construed to fall under facilities (such as commercial processing facilities) subject to additional regulation, as the law is currently written;
  • The revenue threshold for businesses to be regarded as ‘industrial’ facilities is currently set too low, making smaller farms and food hubs subject to industrial-scale regulation;
  • The “material conditions” that lead to withdrawal of a farmer’s protected status (protecting him from undo regulation) are not clearly defined in measurable terms; this puts small family farmers at risk.

Cat’s update October 2014: If you wish to submit comments, it is now too late. Since one of the links in the instructions for posting comments now contains malware, I have deleted that section. I have, however, retained the copy of the comment letter I submitted for future reference (see below).

And here’s another take on the issue, including some history: Will the FDA’s New Food Safety Rules Hurt Small Farmers?

Read on for a copy of my comment letter, and the original email from NSAC.

Cat’s Comment letter:

My letter, as submitted to each of the comment sites described above. Text in blue italics is what you may wish to modify.

Re: Preventive Controls Rule: FDA-2011-N-0920, Produce Standards Rule: FDA-2011-N-0921

As a homemaker and concerned consumer, I am concerned about the impact that FDA’s proposed FSMA rules will have on the farms that I buy food from, my ability to find local food, and our environment. I ask you to ensure that new regulations do not put family farms out of business, harm farmers’ soil, water, and wildlife conservation efforts, or shut down the growth of local and regional healthy food systems!

Growing up in the 1950s rural Montana, I learned to procure fresh foods from local farmers and ranchers: fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, and dairy. I continue this practice to this day. The local food movement in my area of Montana is just gaining momentum. Schools are teaching children where real food comes from, by keeping school gardens; local farmers who practice sustainable methods are forming food co-ops to make buying their foods easier in today’s busy world. Please don’t stop this momentum.

I believe that the freshest foods are the most healthful, and those grown using sustainable, Organic standards are at the top of the healthful list because they are not exposed to toxic herbicides and pesticides, treated with antibiotics, and because they are grown in soil fertilized naturally with compost and aged manure.

If the proposed rules are implemented, it would greatly reduce, if not stop, my access to fresh produce, eggs, dairy and meats. My health and well being would suffer as I would be forced either to starve, or buy foods that are not fresh, have been flown and trucked around the globe and then kept in a warehouse before being trucked to my local grocer. By that time, not only would they be burdened with toxic chemicals, but also they would lack flavor and vital nutrition. Furthermore, the monoculture farming practices will have poisoned our water and our air, and decimated our natural wildlife by taking away their habitat.

  • I urge you to modify the rules so that they:Allow farmers to use sustainable farming practices, including those already allowed and encouraged by existing federal organic standards and conservation programs. Specifically, FDA must not exceed the strict standards for the use of manure and compost used in certified organic production and regulated by the National Organic Program.
  • Ensure that diversified and innovative farms, particularly those pioneering models for increased access to healthy, local foods, continue to grow and thrive without being stifled. Specifically, FDA needs to clarify two key definitions: first, as Congress required, FDA must affirm that farmers markets, CSAs, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer vendors fall under the definition of a “retail food establishment” and are therefore not facilities subject to additional regulation. Second, FDA should adopt at least the $1,000,000 threshold for a very small business and base it on the value of ‘regulated product,’ not ‘all food,’ to ensure smaller farms and businesses (like food hubs) fall under the scale-appropriate requirements and aren’t subject to high cost, industrial-scale regulation.
  • Provide options that treat family farms fairly, with due process and without excessive costs. Specifically, FDA must clearly define the “material conditions” that lead to a withdrawal of a farmer’s protected status in scientifically measurable terms. FDA must also outline a clear, fair, process for justifying the withdrawal of a farmer’s protected status and for how a farmer can regain that status.

Please protect my right of access to healthful, local foods.
Thank you for your consideration,

Catherine Haug

NSAC email text:

Fresh lettuce and organic blueberries from the farmers market. Spicy pickles made from local cucumbers. Juicy tomatoes in school cafeterias. If you’re anything like us, this is the kind of food you like to be able to buy in your community, have in your kitchen, and see on your kids’ lunch trays at school. And farmers and entrepreneurs across the country have been making huge strides in the last few years to get more healthy, local, sustainably produced food into communities everywhere.

However, much of this progress toward building a better food and farm future could literally be wiped out by new regulations proposed this year by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In its push to write new food safety rules based on the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress, FDA is threatening to make sustainable and organic agriculture, local food, and farm conservation efforts collateral damage. As currently written, the rules will:

  • put many farms out of business;
  • reduce the supply of fresh, local produce in schools and hospitals;
  • push farmers to tear out wildlife habitat; and
  • increase the use of chemicals rather than natural fertilizers.

Everyone has a role in ensuring our nation’s food is safe – from the farmers who grow it to the folks who take it home and prepare it. But unless we act now, these new rules will have a devastating impact on the farmers and businesses responsible for putting fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods on America’s dinner plates – which, in turn, affects our health and well being.

You know your farmer, you know your food –
Now stand up for your farmer, stand up for your food!
(link removed)

As they’re currently written, these proposed regulations will unfairly burden family farmers, penalize sustainable and organic farming practices, and reduce the availability of fresh, local food in our communities. They’ll make it harder for beginning farmers to get started, harder to get healthy food into schools, and harder for us to fight nationwide public health challenges like diabetes. Right now, we have a chance to tell FDA that this is unacceptable – and we need your help to do it.

FDA is seeking comments from the public – that’s you! Everyone needs to speak out and tell FDA that the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations must: (link removed)

  • Allow farmers to use sustainable farming practices, including those already allowed and encouraged by existing federal organic standards and conservation programs;
  • Ensure that diversified and innovative farms – particularly those pioneering models for increased access to healthy, local foods – continue to grow and thrive without being stifled; and
  • Provide options that treat family farms fairly, with due process and without excessive costs.

For a better food future,

Sarah & Shavaun

The NSAC Grassroots Team

2 Responses to “Urgent: Do you care about access to local, fresh foods?”

  1. Faye Lomax says:

    I do wonder, Cat, what precisely the new regulation says!!!

    Why must congress muck around with “modernized” safety regs for cryin’ out loud? Unless it be to further the affairs of “modernized” food growing (read agribusiness). Yikes.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Catherine says:

    Thanks for your comments, Faye. I added links to read the FSMA laws and rules to the article.

    I believe that congress enacted the law with the understanding that it would protect consumers from food-borne illness. However, I also know that most laws are not written by the members of congress and their staff, but rather by lobbyists whom they consider to be experts on the particular topic. Thus the laws can be biased in favor of those companies that pay the lobbyists. In other words, as you say, the FSMA was likely written to “further the affairs of ‘modernized’ food growing by agribusiness.”