Senate bill is still a threat to Grand Valley farms, orchards

I stopped at the library Monday morning to put in an application for one of the parcels to be awarded by lottery in their planned community garden.  Short of plowing up my back yard, the library plot may be my only hope of assuring a steady supply of locally grown vegetables this summer and thereafter.

That is an exaggeration, but only because it will take some months to implement the provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (SB 510). Expected to pass within the next couple of weeks, this bill could cripple the local food movement.

The purpose of SB 510 is to reduce the food-borne pathogens in agricultural commodities to prevent widespread outbreaks of food borne diseases.

These outbreaks have become more frequent in recent years. Involving a wide variety of produce, including such common foods as green onions, lettuce, cantaloupes and peanuts. Outbreaks are spread through large, national and international supply chains that commingle food from a variety of sources and distribute it through warehouses and long distribution chains.

SB 510 would require all food producing and processing facilities to initiate hazard analysis programs and develop risk based preventative controls. It would also authorize the Food and Drug Administration to dictate growing and harvesting practices for produce.

Requiring extensive monitoring and reporting, these rules would impose significant costs on small farmers and food processing operations, with little evidence they would make food any safer.

The magnitude of recent salmonella, e-coli and other food-caused epidemics indicate that strong measures are needed to ensure the safety of mass-marketed food. However, small-scale agricultural producers and merchants selling directly to consumers are already regulated by state and local authorities. Additionally, they are inherently transparent and accountable to their community and customers. They do not require the federal oversight essential to regulating large food corporations.

Though some flexibility for small and unconventional producers is included in SB 510, these requirements still will impose significant financial and management burdens on individual farmers and small businesses. Unless they are exempted from the reporting and inspection rules called for in SB 510, many family farms, organic farms and specialty growers could be driven out of business by excessive regulatory costs.

Montana Sen. Jon Testor plans to offer an amendment that would effectively insulate small agricultural producers and processors from the hazard analysis and risk based preventative controls and traceability requirements. Using a benchmark of $500,000 in annual adjusted gross income as a cutoff point, Testor’s amendment would exempt producers below that level from most SB 510 requirements.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils urges Testor to add an exemption from SB 510 produce standards for small producers to his amendment. These regulations could pose problems for holistic small farms that produce meat, dairy and vegetables together using traditional methods.

The produce standards could also affect farmers who commingle crops, since the FDA often sets different standards for different crops. For example, last summer FDA proposed separate rules for melons, tomatoes and leafy greens. A small farm that raised these crops in close proximity could face regulatory problems under the proposed rules.

Big agriculture and industrial food processing and distribution corporations need rules to help them avoid the costs of recalls and compensation to people made sick by bad food. Requiring all industrial grade producers and distributors to adhere to the same standards levels the playing field. Uniform standards, resulting in fewer recalls and lawsuits, will benefit their bottom line as well as public health.

However, these same corporations should not be able to manipulate the rules so as to cripple competition from the local food movement. These are two separate and distinct food production and distribution systems, and they cannot be effectively administered under the same rules.

Now is the time to let our senators know that we want our local farms and orchards protected from regulation that favors large corporations. Urge them to support the Testor amendment, including the proposal to exclude small farmers from inappropriate produce standards.

Meantime, I will till my plot at the library, and hope I will not need to defend it from hordes of veggie deprived Grand Junctionites looking for a fresh green-bean fix.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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