YOUR comment is needed to #fixFSMA!

If you're still wondering how FSMA might affect you, read on. The following article originally appeared in the Fall issue of NOFA Notes; we realized it was a good synopsis of the issues most affecting Vermont's farmers, processors, and consumers, and so are reprinting it here. The deadline to submit comments on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is next Friday, November 15. When Congress was debating the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2010, NOFA Vermont joined farm and food advocacy organizations around the country in a successful effort to amend the law to minimize FSMA’s impact on local food systems and family-scale fruit and vegetable farmers. After all, numerous studies have found that the nation’s food safety “problems” are largely a result of large-scale production, processing, and distribution systems, and not caused by family-scale farms that serve local and regional markets. President Obama signed FSMA in January, 2011 and handed it to the FDA to figure out how to implement the most sweeping food safety reforms in 70 years. We crossed our fingers. Would the FDA “get it right”? Would Vermont’s fruit and vegetable farmers be able to continue their work without worrying about unnecessary and costly new federal food safety regulations? It’s taken over two years to find out – and, unfortunately, the answer is  largely “no.” In its 1,200 page proposed rule, the FDA laid out its vision of how farms – large and small – ought to be regulated to address food safety risks. Farmers, farm organizations, and others have been carefully evaluating the proposed regulations. They’ve found that, while the FDA does include some important exemptions and accommodations for very small and local and regional producers, it would require a large number of fruit and vegetable farms to adopt unrealistic new practices that have little documented impact on food safety. Proposed regulations include extended wait periods before application of manures and compost, weekly testing of all surface waters used in irrigation, and upgrades to buildings and equipment used to harvest, handle or store produce. Other proposed regulations include required worker food safety trainings, practices to address “animal incursions” in fields, required tool and equipment cleaning practices and more. And farms of any size that buy in and sell produce from other farms, sell over half of their produce to wholesale markets, or engage in even minimal processing of their fruits and vegetables (e.g., chopping, coring, slicing, mixing, freezing) must comply with additional requirements to implement a Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls program. In this, and in all areas, extensive and time-consuming recordkeeping is required to document compliance with all regulations. According to the FDA’s own estimates, the cost of compliance would range from $5,000 annually on smaller farms to $30,000 per year on mid-size operations. These costs would be prohibitive for many small and medium growers selling fresh produce and would set back the development of local food systems. These are the FDA’s proposed regulations to implement FSMA. Clearly, they need to be reconsidered and substantially revised by the FDA before they become final. Interested parties have until November 15th to forward comments to the FDA expressing their concerns and recommendations (see below). The FDA will then take these comments into consideration in developing a final rule, which may take another year or more. It is critical that those who may be affected by FSMA regulations take the time to learn more about the proposed regulations and submit comments to the FDA before the November 15th deadline. Farmers’ comments should include details about their farms and how their businesses would be affected by the regulations as proposed. The FDA needs to hear from people “on the ground” who are in a position to offer concrete suggestions for improvements and workable alternatives. [by Dave Rogers, NOFA Vermont Policy Advisor]