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The Food Safety Bill: What's Good, What Needs to Change

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Jun 19, 2009 at 16:31:33 PM PDT


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There's been a lot of talk lately about the parts of the Food Safety Enhancement Act that might hurt small farmers. I'd like to explain which parts of the bill are good and which parts are the ones we want to change. The bill (as a whole) addresses a very urgent situation, as the vast majority of Americans buy their food in the mainstream food system that has been plagued with food safety problems in the past several years. However, we do NOT want a food safety bill to hurt small farmers who are growing food responsibly.
Jill Richardson :: The Food Safety Bill: What's Good, What Needs to Change
Recalls
Currently, the FDA does NOT have the authority to call for a recall. The bill gives them the ability to do that.

Access to Records
In recent food safety outbreaks, the FDA has had a hard time getting access to company's records. The bill gives the FDA expanded access to records so they can see them (for example) while conducting inspections.

Traceability
Currently, there's no good way to know where foods or ingredients came from. The bill will set up a traceability system so we can do this. We don't yet have details on what this will look like (the government has no idea how they are going to do it). Farmers are exempt from this if they sell only directly to consumers and/or restaurants.

Funding the FDA
The FDA is cash- and resource-starved. This bill will provide them with funds by charging a $500/mo fee to all "food facilities." We need to make sure that the definition of "food facility" excludes small farms. While the bill excludes farms, once a farm begins to process foods, it may be considered a food facility.

This is what the FDA thinks is a farm:

"...a facility in one general physical location devoted to the growing and harvesting of crops, the raising of animals (including seafood), or both.  Washing, trimming of outer leaves of, and cooling produce are considered part of harvesting.  The term "farm" includes:

   "(i) Facilities that pack or hold food, provided that all food used in such activities is grown, raised, or consumed on that farm or another farm under the same ownership; and

   "(ii) Facilities that manufacture/process food, provided that all food used in such activities is consumed on that farm or another farm under the same ownership." [21 CFR § 1.227(3)]

If you manufacture or process food and sell it, then you are NOT a farm. Here is how they define that:

"Manufacturing/processing" is defined as "making food from one or more ingredients, or synthesizing, preparing, treating, modifying or manipulating food, including food crops or ingredients.  Examples of manufacturing/processing activities are cutting, peeling, trimming, washing, waxing, eviscerating, rendering, cooking, baking, freezing, cooling, pasteurizing, homogenizing, mixing, formulating, bottling, milling, grinding, extracting juice, distilling, labeling, or packaging." [21 CFR § 1.227(6)]

This definition could be problematic as it could put small farms who make jam to sell (for example) in the category of "food facility" and thus make them subject to $500 annual fees. There is a "guidance document" to further define farms, but that guidance document is not part of the law - it's just a suggestion. That document says:

"The term 'farm' also includes facilities that manufacture/process, pack, or hold food, provided that all food used in those activities is grown, raised, or consumed on that farm or another farm under the same ownership."

This means that you CAN make jam from your own fruit and still be considered a farm. But you cannot use food from other farms in processing - then you'll be subject to the $500/yr fees. While the guidance document is reassuring, it would be better if the contents of the document became part of the law so that the FDA would have to apply it.

Inspections
Food facilities are subject to an increased inspection schedule. Currently the FDA inspects a facility about once a decade. Under the bill, they will inspect facilities every 6 mos to 4 years, depending on that facility's risk. The bill was recently revised to allow them to inspect small businesses less than that, if they feel it would be safe to do so. Again, we want to make sure that farms do not fall under the definition of "food facility."

Growing Standards

This is a part of the bill that concerns me. Here is some text from the Farmer to Consumer Legal Defense Fund site about this:

The FSEA will also directly impact produce farmers by authorizing FDA to tell them how they can grow their crops.  The bill would require the HHS Secretary to establish by regulation "science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, sorting, transporting, and holding of raw agricultural commodities that-(1) are from a plant or a fungus; and (2) for which the Secretary has determined that such standards minimize the risk of serious adverse health consequences or death to human or animals."  [section 104(b), sec 419A(a)-p. 31]

Any issued regulation "may include standards addressing manure use, water quality, employee hygiene, sanitation and animal control, and temperature controls, as the Secretary determines to be reasonably necessary." [section 104(b), sec 419A(b)(3)-p. 32]

In issuing the regulation, the Secretary "shall take into consideration, consistent with ensuring enforceable public health protection, the impact on small-scale and diversified farms, and on wildlife habitat, conservation practices, watershed-protection efforts, and organic production methods" [section 104(b), sec 419A(b)(7)-pp. 32-33]

Here's the Farmer to Consumer Legal Defense Fund's critique of this provision (which I tend to agree with):

Based on the FDA's track record with "good agricultural practices", the agency is unlikely to adequately address the differences between industrial operations and sustainable farms.  The danger is that FDA will adopt regulations that treat small farms growing a diversity of crops organically (whether certified or not) the same as a facility growing thousands of acres of a single crop conventionally.  The regulations could be expensive and burdensome, or simply not feasible, for small farms.  Any produce that does not meet the established safety standards would be considered adulterated under the FSEA [section 104(a)-p. 30].

Quarantines
Another part of the bill that concerns farmers is the power to quarantine it gives the FDA:

"If the Secretary determines that there is credible evidence or information that an article of food presents a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals, the Secretary may quarantine any geographic area within the United States where the Secretary reasonably believes such food is located or from which such food originated.  The authority to quarantine includes prohibiting or restricting the movement of food or of any vehicle being used or that has been used to transport or hold such food within the geographic area" [section 133(b)(1)-pp. 83-84].  

Exemptions for Livestock Farms
This week, the bill was changed to exempt livestock and poultry operations, thanks to the lobbying of the pork industry. I can't say I'm thrilled about this because factory pork farms probably DO need to be regulated. But, at the same time, small livestock farmers are off the hook with the new changes to the bill too. Here is what the pork industry says of the recent changes to the bill:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an amendment to the "Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009," H.R. 2749, that exempts livestock and poultry farms from a provision that expands the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority over food producers. It would allow FDA to conduct on-farm inspections, quarantine geographic areas over food-safety problems, create a tracing system for all food and require additional records to be kept. The provision will apply to the grain side of diversified livestock and grain operations.
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Wonderful (4.00 / 3)
Now I'm going to have to ask the FDA how to grow lettuce?

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....

right, since they totally know (4.00 / 3)
and if anything, they'll tell ya how to grow it if you've got several hundred acres of monoculture. That'll work well on your farm, right?

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
NPPC opposes restrictions on animal health products. (4.00 / 3)
CattleNetwork - NPPC: Food-Safety Bill Better But Concerns Remain

During today's consideration of the House bill, Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., offered an amendment to ban the use in livestock of certain antibiotics. Although the amendment was withdrawn, the move could be a harbinger of future efforts to include an antibiotics ban in legislation. NPPC opposes restrictions on animal health products. (my bold)

NPPC opposes restrictions on animal health products. ...keeping dying animals on their feet long enough to bring them to market.

Yankee Frugality: use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.


Small-scale processors would be hurt, too (4.00 / 5)
In addition to the small farms, I'd ask that we remember the small-scale processors, too.  We've already seen the results of HAACP and USDA regulations in the context of small slaughterhouses -- ever fewer small slaughterhouses, making it very hard for sustainable livestock farmers to find a way to go from live animals to a marketable product.

Although processing isn't as necessary for vegetables and fruit, it's still an important aspect of creating viable local food systems: people who will take raw products and make canned vegetables, fermented products, cheeses, jams, breads, etc.  Without that step, the local food system is inherently limited.  

The annual fees and paperwork requirements of this bill would crush many small processors, and deter others from even trying to start up such businesses.  Congress needs to clearly focus FDA on large processing plants, that ship foods to thousands (if not millions) of people in multiple states, and leave small, local processors alone.


Protect our farms - Stop NAIS!  Go to http://FarmAndRanchFreedom.org for more information.


Some "processing" is needed to sell fruit and veggies (4.00 / 4)
to certain buyers. Our local farmers can't sell washed and cut veggies to the schools for snacks as it's considered processed food. I can't remember all the details, but what it boils down to is the schools can't do the prep work and the farmers can't sell if it's prepped for snacks.

What would happen to co-op commercial kitchens? The instructor in the last class I took mentioned they were working on getting a commercial kitchen going so folks could come and can/etc either their own produce or come direct from pick your own farms. Also (obviously) so the local farmers could utilize it to expand their output/seasons with "processed" items. I was thinking it sounded like a great way to spend the day. Picking from the fields and then going straight to the kitchen!

I agree with you on where the focus needs to be. I follow the FDA alerts and it's not often that I see small producers. We did have one recently, but it was small, fairly local and when I checked out the company, it was a Mom and Pop. The reason I did check them out was because someone had commented on how they did their recall right (like not waiting a couple months etc!) I don't expect them to be perfect, but in general, they have a lot less room for error. They don't have the protection$ the big boys have and their motivation is generally more honest.


[ Parent ]
you oughta call your rep (4.00 / 2)
and share your concerns. Or call the Energy & Commerce Committee and tell them. The # is 202-225-2927

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
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