Local farmers filed into the Augusta State Armory in Maine and onto New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College campus in the past couple of days to register their opposition to the produce rule the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is promulgating as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, was present at both events as part of his own national listening tour to hear how the produce-safety standards are going over with fruit and vegetable farms.
In Maine, where the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry estimates that only a very small percentage of farmers would be subject to the new rule, the balance of the testimony was decidedly negative. Maine farmers called the new regulations onerous.
FDA’s road tour took testimony on both the produce rule and another on processing.
Exemptions in the FSMA, signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, are broad. Excluded from the law are growers with less than $25,000 worth of sales annually and those with sales of less than $500,000 if half of the sales are to stores, restaurants or other customers within 275 miles of their location.
Maine farmers expressed concerns about the costs of complying with the new rules, especially as they apply to water quality, manure application, hygiene and separating animals from crops. FDA estimates a mid-sized farm would spend $13,000 in compliance costs, while a large farm with sales of more than $500,000 might spend $30,000.
Maine State Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, said it’s more likely someone would be struck by lightning than get sick from locally grown produce.
Taylor, who is blogging about his listening tour, wrote that: ”Just as we saw in the Pacific Northwest, some growers are worried that the cost of meeting food safety regulations will be excessive and could even put them out of business. Our pledge in working toward the final rules is to make them as practical as possible so that we achieve food safety in a way that is workable across the great diversity of American agriculture, from the Pacific Northwest to New England.”
Speaking at Hanover, Taylor said FDA is committed “to the idea that one size fits all does not work.” In addition to extending the official comment period for another 60 days, FDA also recently announced it was doing an environmental impact statement on the produce rule.
The mother of a boy sickened by foodborne illness spoke up at the hearing to say that the vast majority of foodborne illnesses “goes underground.”© Food Safety News