Small and sustainable agriculture advocates are urging the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to make significant changes to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, during markup this week.

Advocates are worried that the legislation as it is currently written, could have unintended, negative consequences to the very kind of agriculture they are trying to support.

organic greens article.jpg

“The bill as introduced would make major improvements in the federal regulatory regime related to food-borne illness from pathogens, but in doing so would erect significant barriers to better food and nutrition and improved public health,” said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), in a statement released yesterday, which called the bill a “heavy-handed” and “costly” attempt to apply industrial-scaled regulations to family farms.

NSAC, joined by the National Organic Coalition, National Farmers Union, the Organic Trade Association, and dozens of other groups sent a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) asking the senators to consider  amending the bill to lessen the impact on small, sustainable and organic farmers.

“We want to support the bill, but in its current form we cannot,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for NSAC.

“It is not good policy to stick small and mid-sized family farms with large compliance costs to comply with industrial regulations,” said Hoefner. “We support training and technical assistance to help farmers craft scale-appropriate on-farm food safety plans, a key element missing from the bill.”

Harry Hamil, founder of Black Mountain Farmers Market in North Carolina, agrees.

“As written, the good that S. 510 does will be more than offset by the unintended harm it will to do to the local, sustainable agriculture,” said Hamil, in an email to local food supporters, growers, and producers. “It’s one-size-fits-all approach to food safety means that much of what we all love about local food will be destroyed.”

Small and sustainable agriculture advocates are also concerned about the impact the food safety bill could have on biodiversity and conservation efforts.

“Besides contributing to clean air, clean water, soil tilth and overall environmental health, the  conservation practices our farmers use mitigate certain food safety risks by establishing important vegetative buffers that can filter pathogens from streams and runoff and protect from windborne pathogens,” said Brad Redlin, director of Agricultural Programs at the Izaak Walton League of America.

“It is critical that the HELP committee ensures that new food safety standards are consistent with conservation practice standards for the safety and long-term health of our agricultural systems and human communities,” added Redlin.

The group also cited concerns over how the proposed food safety regulations could conflict or add to existing regulations for organic farmers.

“It is imperative that the FDA recognized these existing measures and coordinate with the USDA so that certified organic farmers and ranchers do not have to face duplicative or conflicting standards,” said Steve Etka, senior representative for the National Organic Coalition.

In its letter to HELP Committee members, the group voiced strong support for adding Senator Stabenow’s (D-MI) proposed legislation, the Growing Safe Food Act to S. 510. Stabenow’s provision would establish food safety training and education to assist small and mid-sized farms.

Group training and education programs are a better fit and the most cost effective mechanism for reaching the the tens if not hundreds of thousands of small and mid-sized farms that engage in on-farm processing,” said Hamil.