ALL HANDS ON DECK--YOUR FRESH FOOD SUPPLY, OUR FARM, IS IN DANGER
ALL HANDS ON DECK--YOUR FRESH FOOD SUPPLY, OUR FARM, IS IN DANGER
Many of you who have been customers for decades know that we rarely bother you with miscellaneous requests and political rants. We're just hard working farmers who see our mission as providing you with nutritious food in an environmentally friendly way. So it's not without restraint that we ask for your help commenting on the proposed rules for the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011. There are two major regulations that will affect farm level producers, the Produce Rule, which outlines standards for produce production (growing, harvesting, packing, and holding) and the Preventative Controls Rule, which requires new safety measures for "facilities" (including typical farms) that process (manufacture, pack, or hold) food for human consumption. These regulations apply to everything from harvest, to buildings, wild animals, compost, and irrigation water.
After decades operating a small family organic farm, we seriously think that many small produce farms like ours might be forced to close, not for any production or marketing issue whatsoever. The prospect here is better than ever. The FSMA has the real potential to make it impossible for small produce growers to make a living by requiring costly and we feel unnecessary alterations to the way produce is handled. This would leave such farms as merely pretty western PA landscapes without the resources to withstand development pressure on the suburban fringes of a major metropolitan area. This issue is that serious.
Why the big push to "modernize" the food safety regulations? There have been a steady string of food contaminations which caused sickness and deaths in the last two decades which have made national headlines --green onions from Sonora, spinach from California, melons from Colorado, peanuts from Texas, ground beef from Nebraska, juice from California... Demand for regulatory action had resulted in legislation. But does anyone see a pattern here in the incidents? All these incidents were from very large companies distributing food nationwide. The real problem is with that system. Scattered illnesses in dozens of states need to be linked together to determine what's going on in an individual case. By the time causation is known, it's too late. (also, in large batch plants like those, a little contamination innoculates a very large amount of food) Whereas, sickness caused by small scale locally produced food is quickly found out, halted, and other consumers alerted.
What's wrong with the FSMA? Large corporations in the business of growing and shipping to a nationwide network will accommodate to it. (and in our opinion need to). But for the small producer, there are so many shortcomings in the rules that it's hard to know where to start objecting. We think safe food is extremely important. But on nearly every level this act is a misguided effort with disastrous consequences when applied wholesale to small farmers and especially for sustainable and organic farmers.
Just a few worrisome excerpts from the proposed rule: On buildings: "... be constructed in such a manner that floor, walls, ceilings, fixtures, ducts and pipes can be adequately cleaned and kept in good repair." This would seem to preclude use of all classic Pennsylvania bank barns like our 150 year old barn, with it's fieldstone foundation and still strong beams, hand hewn by sturdy pioneers of another century. It's caused no known food illnesses. Yet "modern" warehouse-like structures not twenty years old shipping to nationwide markets have meanwhile caused thousands of illnesses and scores of deaths. On wild animals: "... If under the circumstances there is a reasonable probability that animal intrusion will contaminate covered produce, you would be required to monitor for evidence of animal intrusion immediately prior to harvest and, as needed, during the growing season. If you see evidence of animal intrusion, such as significant quantities of animals..." Do the writers seriously think we farmers ignore losses due to deer and other animals and don't try to prevent them from entering fields? And has any of them seen the PA deer herd in action? Yes, surely none of us need be told not to harvest produce visibly containing excrement. But a buffer zone for rain splash, runoff with rain, etc? Documentation? Wouldn't produce farming in PA be banned entirely? I guess it's better to produce in thousand acre fields in the middle of a desert--no animals there. Composting, the seminal organic procedure, the recycling of natural byproducts, would be in danger of being entirely eliminated by farmers because of continual extensive testing requirements: Proposed §§ 112.54 and 112.55 Organic farmers have long practiced the art of composting and have strict standards for it's production. Yet, the FDA knows better. Yes, better to landfill that "waste" and feed the plants with chemicals. Irrigation water (proposed § 112.41) Season long weekly testing is not only a great cost, but requiring treatment for water which almost immediately becomes re-contaminated by contact with soil, just doesn't make sense. Numerous healthy fish, and animals live in the ponds, lakes, and streams used for irrigation in our region. We thought that was a good sign. Suddenly this is bad? Surely someone should realize the East is not like the West. Here water supplies change daily because of rainfall, and production fields are part and parcel of an integrated natural hydro-ecosystem as opposed to use and reuse of irrigation water from common canals in the West. Equipment: " You must use equipment and tools... used to store or convey harvested covered produce (such as containers, bins, food-packing material...) to enable them to be adequately cleaned... and sanitize...[with] Instruments or controls used to measure, regulate, or record temperatures, hydrogen ion concentration (pH), sanitizer efficacy or other conditions..." We clean or line our containers as necessary, but one could easily see where this one is going. Throw-away or plastic containers put through a dishwasher like machine with each use. Goodbye to durable, reusable, and environmentally friendly wood! Hello to expensive machines and single use packaging.
We'd like to plan over the next few years to gradually reduce our personal workload and responsibilities and transition our highly successful and productive farm on to the another generation of farmers. There's absolutely no business reason to think this can't be accomplished. But the FSMA puts a huge cloud on that horizon. And this is just when the local, organic, and sustainable agriculture movements are transforming the food scene nationwide. It's attracting many enthusiastic young people to a profession long characterized by average ages in the fifties and sixties. Assuming a similar scenario plays out with other small farms in our region, it will leave the entire region at the mercy of the nationwide system of food delivery you are all too familiar with at your local supermarket. The fresh produce you have all come to know and enjoy from local farms will be gone, because those local sources will be hard pressed to continue with rules like these. It will also leave you all at the mercy of the FSMA protocols.
If the proposed rules are enacted, it will be the end of farming as we know it. Young people will cease to enter the field. The local foods movement will be devastated. The quality of our dining will degrade. TheU.S.food supply will be less secure, not more.
Brian Snyder, executive director for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, has a very informative blog which sounds the alarm and directs you to what you can do. It's well worth reading at: Write to Farm. (http://writetofarm.com/2013/09/26/moment-of-truth-for-farmers-with-food-safety-has-arrived/#) Also, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has put together a great site with tons of information and even comment templates.
Some short videos on impacts of FSMA on farmers and on availability of fresh food:
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud__oFjA9YE- more farmer focused
- www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmXzOs0rF6M - more consumer focused
Please help! Swell the public outcry over this issue by commenting to the FDA. Save our farms. Save your food.
--Don & Becky Kretschmann
P.S. Here's the exact comment page: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2011-N-0921-0199
P.P.S. Our suggestion to FDA: Use rules similar to those written for producers and facilities over a certain volume of production, and/or those with national distribution--not a dollar amount because that penalizes anyone who retails production, adds value (even being certified organic adds value), and/or supplements with produce from a neighbor. Then mandate for all producers under that amount that they have a permit which requires specified coursework and continuing education, similar to pesticide applicator's licenses.