Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan touched on the importance of food safety in the growing regional and local food movement during the U.S. Department of Agriculture Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food event at the White House on Monday.

farm-redbarn-406.jpg“No one gets a pass on food safety, in my mind, I don’t care if you’re the biggest farm in the world, or the smallest” said Merrigan, in response to a question from Food Safety News. “We all have to achieve very high levels of food safety. Secretary Tom Vilsack said one of his first meetings, if not his first meeting, with the president was talking about the importance of food safety. So this White House and this administration takes food safety very seriously.”

“But there are different ways of getting there,” said Merrigan. “One of the things that we funded through the Risk Management Agency was working with — it’s one of many things that we’ve done — and what they did was they developed a food safety planning tool.” 

The tool, part of’s On-Farm Food Safety Project, is the first of its kind that has a broad range of input and expertise — from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to trade groups to ag extension specialists. It is aimed at helping small- and mid-sized farmers to achieve Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) harmonized standards and certification to help ensure fruits and vegetables are produced, handled and stored in the safest manner possible.

“It’s free to farmers,” said Merrigan. “So you can go on to the website… and it’ll ask you questions, kind of like TurboTax, if you’ve every used TurboTax in tax filing season. It asks you particular questions and at the end you hit print and you get your food safety plan.

“We are doing a lot, I think, to help small farmers. If you’re vending into a school or farm-to-institution situation, or even if you’re direct to farmer’s market, of course you want to have high levels of food safety,” added Merrigan. “We’re trying to develop tools to help people out.”

The USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates existing resources within the department, unveiled a digital map last week, known as The Compass, that visually maps out USDA local and regional food projects.

The White House event was the epicenter of a virtual conversation, otherwise known as a “tweetup,” because it was mostly hosted on Twitter. The conversation can be viewed by searching for the hashtag #KYF2 at


  • kkreher

    I think Kathleen misspoke, any farmer with less than 3,000 chickens does not have to follow the FDA Egg Safety Rule.
    So, the small farmer is exempt from Food Safety and 2,999 chickens lay a lot of eggs, who’s buying them?

  • Cheryl

    Merrigan has been eating too many locally grown beans — she’s full of hot air and gas. Her precious small farm lobby was exempted from FSMA by Sen. Tester so they need not concern themselves with food safety. At the time they all agreed profit was more important to small farmers than the safety of their customers’ families; food safety regulations might have nibbled at their profits and that was unacceptable. So now we have waves of hot air and gas to protect us from food safety risks. Probably a bunch of taxpayer money to fund the GAP flatulence, too (hey, “it’s free to farmers”. Know your farmer, know your gasbag and hang tight to your wallet.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Does the FSMA pertain to USDA regulated foods or just FDA? In any event, the Food Safety Planning Tool sounds like a wonderful first step in reaching out to the small farms. However, there must be an incentive for them to be GAP certified. Perhaps a small tax break or something so that all size farmers will want to be on board with that and not feel forced. As we all know in dealing with the FSMA, forcing the small farmer to do anything just does not work. . .

  • Michael Bulger

    The website looks great. Small farms can use a resource such as this. Small farms are far from being exempt from FSMA and food safety regulations.
    I’m glad USDA is working constructively and not overlooking the simple steps towards food safety.

  • Steve

    For those having a gas attack: Kathleen Merrigan is Deputy Secretary at USDA — while the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is overseen and implemented by an entirely different agency — FDA.
    Moreover, FSMA recognizes that one size does not fit all and regulations need to appropriately fit the scale of the farming operation. Rather than exemptions, as one of many amendments within FSMA, the Tester amendment presents an alternative set of regs for smaller scale farmers.
    Thankfully, USDA along with Cooperative Extension and many farmer organizations (who have actual on-farm experience) around the country are playing a strongly supportive role in providing training and educational materials to farmers to help them meet the challenges of the presence of increasingly virulent food contamination microbes in our food system.
    The key to this may well be the Stabenow amendment in FSMA — which creates an all-important funding base for these farmer trainings. When it comes to the appropriations to fund FSMA — Congress should put (our) money where their mouth is…

  • Michael Bulger

    I think it is important to add that farms of all sizes are not the focus of FSMA. Food facilities, which FSMA is directed towards, are not exempted from the breadth of the law dependent on size. In other words, small food facilities are subject to food safety regulations.

  • Tax accountant

    A tax break for small farmers?!?!
    You simply cannot be serious, Gabrielle.
    There are no taxes to rebate! Small farmers sell their overpriced cottage industry stuff for cold hard cash at farmers markets and such. They don’t declare cash income and they don’t pay tax on it. That’s why they make such a royal fuss whenever sensible oversight is suggested, for food safety or otherwise. The absolute last thing they will accept is anything exposing their greed and dishonesty. It is all an accepted scam, now supported in USDA by the likes of Kathleen Merrigan. Never underestimate the power and persistence of the small farm lobby!

  • Tax payer

    Ah “tax accountant” — sounds like you’ve been working too long in the corporate ag sector where all you have to do is rake in the subsidies and pay out zilch in taxes… talk about INSTITUTIONALIZED greed and dishonesty!

  • H R Block slave

    I prepare taxes too and I have never seen cash income from farmers markets fully declared on a tax return. Even by small farmers from whom I know plenty of customers (including my wife and daughter-in-law) purchase expensive stuff on a regular basis. That’s why you never get a receipt of any sort when you buy from these little local guys. All cash and no paper trail for the IRS to follow up. Well, got to get back to the salt mines. April 15 isn’t that far away.

  • Sandy

    Why do we coddle these small farmers? Everything is made voluntary for them. They seem to spend half their time smearing real farmers in a cheesy negative advertising campaign. They spend the other half of their time complaining they cannot complete without special attention in the form of plenty of handouts. They don’t seem to give a damn about the safety of people like you and me who buy their food. And with the prices they charge they don’t display much compassion for families on a budget. Instead of coddling why aren’t we making small farmers be truthful and responsible? Someone needs to be making sure they contribute their fair share because they won’t do it voluntarily.

  • Mike Penuelas

    Why do hugh agribusiness get a pass on food safety? Now that want to prevent people from secretly video tape horrible conditions on farms and nasty non-foods these companies are adding to food and selling them to school districts.