Proposed food safety rules may affect area farmers/processors

Submit your comments prior to November 15, 2013.

The U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) has issued a proposed draft of new food safety rules as a result of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). The Act establishes rules for: Produce Production (Produce Rule) and Food Processing Facilities (Preventative Controls Rule). If you are a farmer who grows and sells fresh produce or a processing/packing facility, FSMA may impact your operation.

With regards to the produce rule, a farm may fall into one of three categories: 1) exempt, 2) subject to modified requirements or 3) subject to full requirements.

Produce is not covered by the Produce Rule or “exempt” if: the farm’s previous three year annual average food sale value is less than $25,000, produce is only grown for personal consumption, produce grown is rarely consumed raw or for produce that is not in its natural or raw state (undergoes processing).

An operation falls under the modified requirements if its gross sales over the previous three years are less than $500,000 and over 50 percent of the food is direct marketed to an end user, but the operation will be subject to additional provisions. If the produce will be subject to additional processing that kills microorganisms, it is exempt, but the operation is still required to meet the record keeping, and compliance and enforcement provisions.

If gross sales of your operation are greater than $500,000, then you are subject to the complete rule. A cursory read of the proposed rule conveyed several potential issues that could affect farmers:

If a farm operation is subject to the complete rule and uses surface water for irrigation, they must pay for weekly water tests, which could be cost prohibitive for many growers. Also, if domesticated animals (eg. livestock) are incorporated into the farming system, the new standards require “an adequate waiting period” between grazing and harvest if there is a “reasonable probability” that animals will contaminate produce covered by the new rules. “Reasonable probability” and “adequate waiting period” are not defined in the new rule. The new rule has no mention of conservation practices or how the rule may impact their implementation or use.

In some instances, the proposed rule contradicts the National Organic Program rules.

If only a small fraction of a farm’s income is a result of produce sales, the farm could still be subject to the complete rule if the farm’s collective gross sales (from all crops and livestock, not just produce) exceeds $500,000.

With respect to the Preventative Controls Rule, there are also several issues that could impact farmers and processors.

The proposed rule does not distinguish between a farmer that holds produce for a neighboring farmer and a multinational corporation that imports food from multiple countries. However, it is unclear how the proposed rule affects Food Hubs, which typically receive, aggregate, store, and aggregate products from multiple farms, or Community Supported Agriculture operations, which may distribute items from multiple farms.

If you are a farmer or processor, it may be worth taking the time to educate yourself on the proposed rule, even if you think you may fall into the “exempt” category. Since the comment period is still open until November 15, there is still time for farmers’ voices to be heard.

For a detailed analysis of the rule, including instructions on how to submit your comments, please visit the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Website or contact your local Michigan State University Extension educator.

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