I'm a staff writer for the Justmeans Sustainable Food blog, which means I have an excuse to spend a bit of time each week researching topics that I'm really passionate about, like local food systems, community garden projects, food security, and farm to institution efforts. Offline, I coordinate a community garden project on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington....
Food Safety Modernization Act Should be Amended to Reflect the Needs of Small Farms
"Tis the season for food safety and nutrition on Capitol Hill. While the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill works its way through Congress (hopefully), the Senate will open the floor for debate around the Food Safety Modernization Act next week. As it is, the bill makes strides towards the improvement of corporate food safety, but by and large does not suit the needs and issues facing small farmers and producers that hope to sell to restaurants and markets. However two amendments that will be offered during the Senate's debate would, if approved and incorporated, protect small farmers and food producers.
The first amendment on the table is the Tester-Hagen Amendment. This particular amendment is critical to small farms, as it adjusts food safety standards to better suit a small scale producer. Rather than have to fit the corporate scale mold, small farms will have less costly and more appropriate alternative way to meet the requirements for Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Plan. This particularly applies to farmers who sell 50% or more of their product directly to local (defined as within a 400 mile radius) consumers, restaurants, and stores and have a gross annual income of less than $500,000. The Tester-Hagen amendment would also clarify the existing law that small farms that direct market most of their products don't need to register with the FDA. They do however need to go through all of the proper state food safety regualtion licensing processes and provide some labeling. Labeling and traceability is especially important in the effort for food safety, and small farms need to ensure that product information is complete (although small farm product standards should differ from the industrial food standards) and accessible.
The other amendment that is crucial to the food safety needs of small producers is the Manager's Amendment, which has been compiled over the past year and covers a lot of ground. The inclusion of this amendment would mean a USDA grant program to enable small farmers and processors (particularly low-income, beginning, and disadvantaged farmers, etc.) to participate in food safety training, essential to expanding markets. Another facet of this amendment is to reduce the amount of paperwork necessary, and to provide more flexibility for small farmers in particular, who often have to jump through time consuming and irrelevant hoops to pass food safety regulations based on corporate-scale models. This goes hand in hand with Vermont Senator Bernie Sander's addition to the Manager's Amendment, which is to give the FDA the ability to exempt small processors who are making low or no risk value-added products from new regulation requirements. Thanks to the contribution of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, small farms would also be exempt from the extensive and overwhelming labeling process and traceability standards that are in place to monitor and track food that's marketed far and wide.
Basically, the Food Safety Moderinzation Act is an important one, hands down, but in order to serve small, sustainable agriculture and small producers better, these two key amendments must be included in the final draft. Yes! We want food that is safe and healthy AND from local small, sustainable farms! Sometime before next Wednesday, pass the word along to your Senator that these amendments are vital to food safety and to creating a sustainable, local food system.