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New England Farmers Don’t Much Care For Produce Rule

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
  • Michael Bulger

    I conducted a survey as part of my graduate school research. In that survey of approximately 130 farmers, I found that most of the negative comments regarding the rules (entered into the open field at the end of the survey) came from farmers who will be exempt from the produce rules. There seemed to be an amount of confusion that led them to think that the rules would harm their businesses, even though the reality is that the rules would not cover their businesses.

  • John Q. Public

    “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.”
    Where do you get your statistics?! I expect more from our representitives than just blithering idiocy.

  • Put this in perspective: the people in Maine are obsessed about food freedom.

    Any rule would be too much. No matter how many people get sick, no one will have ever gotten sick.

  • farmber

    Along with not liking the proposed produce rule, the northeast farmers don’t like the proposed preventative controls rule much either. That’s because of all the convoluted wording that could easily turn “farms” into “facilities” — subjecting farmers to a host of expensive unwarranted regulations.

  • den2

    More regulations that will allow big companies to survive while the family owned and small businesses are forced out of existence.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Curious to hear that I have now become a “Father” and not a “Mother” that I am ….. Hmmmmm. If you watched the news you would see that is far from the case ….. In any event I was very sad and disappointed to have been part of that meeting ….

    • VTChick

      I was in the NH hearings as an observer, and I don’t know why you were sad or disappointed. The farmers who can look their customers in the eye when they sell their produce are much more accountable than those who grow for processors who commingle crops. The small farmers weren’t saying they don’t believe in food safety. They’re saying make the rules appropriate to the risk. Diversified farms in New England are different than monoculture farms in the Midwest or big lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley. All the farmers want is recognition that one size will not fit all and regulations that put them out of business will force more of us to rely on anonymous growers on a national scale to provide our food.

    • ethanspapa

      My better half refuses to watch the news . I watch BBC, Fox and PBS and then I get a headache..

  • Your1Friend

    I doubt that Michael Taylor is really listening to anybody but Monsanto.

    Washington needs to support small, local organic farmers instead of penalizing them.

  • Rei Miraa

    in the PNW our issue is about the water quality and testing every 7 days and having to stop using the water if it has an issue. our irrigation canals rival the aqueducts that the Romans built. and it would cause a domino effect, if one person tested bad then are they legally obligated to tell their neighbors up the canal to also stop watering? my issue is that its all scientifically based risk. something mentions a qualitative risk assessment…. where is the proof that my fruit risk is on the same level as row crops? honestly I’m more afraid of the food in the stores with birds flying in the building and kids with snotty hands touching the produce.

    btw my favorite quote from the fsma meeting last week: “we are making this up as we go”

  • flameforjustice

    Growers/farmers of produce should put the safety and health of their consumers first and foremost. Any grower/farmer who can’t afford to follow the new guidelines should be given some financial aid to do so. The government pays certain farmers not to grow things so help the small farmers who do grow food for human consumption so they can produce food more safely.

  • ethanspapa

    Of course the ones that have the most to lose from avarice are excluded from the law. Lobbyists at work again. The little guy who takes great pride and puts TLC into their produce and add nothing to their crop get entwined to the tomato vine of over officious neanderthals. Anytime you get government involved in something look for an ongoing nightmare. { :< ( .