Last year's passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act was just the first step in a process posing significant dangers for many farmers and local food producers. FSMA provisions require the Food and Drug Administration to write, adopt and enforce new safety rules.
That bureaucratic process can easily bury producers under a mountain of regulations. That's why the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Weston A. Price Foundation worked hard to convince Congress to include the Tester-Hagan amendment, exempting small-scale, direct-marketing food producers from new burdensome HACCP-type requirements and intrusive on-farm safety standards.
But the amendment doesn't protect producers grossing over $500,000 or those who sell into the wholesale market. And, it doesn't exempt any producers from the threat of FDA inspection and enforcement actions – which are expected to increase.
Unfortunately, FDA has a track record of targeting small-scale producers with unfair inspections and enforcement. While the agency has punished industrial-scale producers responsible for major food-borne illness outbreaks with little more than a slap on the wrist, it has simultaneously pursued small-scale producers and co-op operations with a vengeance wholly out of place given the lack of harm caused by these producers.
Congress clearly recognized that small-scale, local producers are different from the large-scale, national and multinational companies. The latter have produced almost all of the major food-borne illnesses.
If FDA shifts its focus to the truly high-risk facilities, it could more effectively protect American consumers, even with the funding reductions anticipated in the FY 2012 appropriations bill.
Already targeting smaller farms
But this summer, Obama Food Safety Chief Michael Taylor defended the agency's decision to conduct a year-long sting operation of an Amish farmer, along with other small-farm raids. This doesn't bode well for how the agency is likely to craft its new rules.
Targeting small-scale producers defies logic and the agency's own analysis of food safety challenges. FDA already recognizes the problem with complex supply and distribution chains is exacerbated by imported foods.
A recent FDA report acknowledged that "Imported vegetable protein contaminated with melamine has sickened and killed American pets. . . Peppers, eggs, peanut butter, pistachios, spinach, and cookie dough have all been associated with serious disease outbreaks in recent years. Many of the crises were due to, or exacerbated by, the regulatory challenges of globalization."
The fewer hands that a food passes through, the less risk it poses. FARFA and WAPF have urged FDA to consider this fact, along with other key factors as to which food facilities should be considered high-risk priorities, such as facility size and whether it's already inspected by state and local authorities.
It's past time for FDA to pay attention to the real source of the problems – the industrial food system with its complex, multinational sourcing and distribution chains – and stop harassing small-scale American producers.
Morell is president of the Washington, D.C., based Weston A. Price Foundation. McGeary is executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, headquartered in Cameron, Texas.
For more WAPF information, contact (202) 363-4394 or www.westonaprice.org. For more about FARFA, contact (254) 697-2661 or www.FarmAndRanchFreedom.org