FSMA Rules Unfair to Farmers, Bad for Public Health

{Blogger’s note: The following list of talking points with respect to the newly proposed FSMA rules was developed by my colleague Roland McReynolds at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and is meant to be helpful to anyone who will be talking about the rules or making official comments to the FDA by the November 15 deadline. For more information, please see other posts on this blog, or go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website.}

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed regulations for farms and food businesses under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  Everything from salad and salsas to cheese and u-pick fruit will be affected, and the costs will force thousands of American farmers and local food makers out of business, destroying job growth in agriculture.  The rules are unscientific, and will damage public health by reducing consumers’ access to fresh, healthy produce and minimally processed foods, and by discouraging soil and water conservation practices on farms.

American farmers and food businesses want to take care of their customers and improve people’s health with fresh fruits and vegetables.  FDA must become a partner to our farmers and food entrepreneurs, instead of shuttering them:

  1. FDA should go back to the drawing board, and scrap its proposed On-Farm Produce Standards and Preventive Controls for Food Facilities.  It should issue new proposals based on real science and the real situations on American farms.  The National Association of State Depts. of Agriculture has also urged FDA to start over.
  2. FDA should not impose burdensome regulations on low-risk food processing, regardless of the size of the business.  The agency has identified a long list of activities that it excludes from the Preventive Controls rule because they are unlikely to cause foodborne illness, but only if the firm has annual sales of as little as $250,000.
  3. FDA irrigation water standards should be based on science and practical farming experience.  The current rules impose impractical testing and treatment requirements that have no basis in science.
  4. FDA standards for natural fertilizers should be based on the National Organic Program.  Congress instructed FDA not to conflict with the organic rules, but FDA ignored lawmakers, and makes it practically impossible to use compost and manure fertilizer on produce farms.
  5. FDA should make common-sense changes to its definition of food ‘processing.’  Businesses that perform the activities farms have always done to prepare their crops for market—packing, packaging, labeling, washing, shelling, and trimming—and that don’t actually change the nature of the crops should not be regulated under the same standards as factories that actually manufacture foods.
  6. FDA should provide fair and full due process before denying firms the protections established by Congress.  Congress chose not to impose FSMA on farms and businesses selling mostly to local customers if their revenues are under $500,000/year; FDA’s proposed rules give the agency unfettered authority to withdraw those safe harbors.
  7. FDA standards for animals on farms should protect conservation practices that support natural pollination and water quality services.

Without these changes, FDA’s rules will devastate agriculture in this country.  Here’s what the current rules promise:

  • How many farms will go out of business?  FDA’s numbers show that the typical produce farm with less than $250,000 in sales will spend 6% of its revenue to comply with proposed on-farm regulations.  FDA’s calculation rests on the flawed assumption that farms are only growing produce three to six months out of the year.
  • The average net income for farmers nationally was 10% of sales in 2011; so even with FDA’s flawed numbers, FSMA will consume more than half the profits of America’s small farms.  FDA admits that the rules will reduce the number of new farms in the US, increasing dependence on imported produce and processed foods.
  • The rules will not reduce foodborne illness.  A USDA analysis concluded there was no evidence that FSMA-like food safety procedures would actually prevent disease.
  • FDA’s calculations show that 73% of the costs of the new rules for food facilities will be borne by businesses with 20 or fewer employees, even though these businesses produce just 4% of the food consumed in the US.
  • Local food distributors will close, new ones will not launch.  Small ‘food hub’ businesses are opening across the country to increase markets for farmers, and give consumers more access to fresh produce.  FDA’s proposed rules would impose compliance costs equal to as much as 8% of these firm’s annual sales.  We’ve seen this scenario before: After industrial-scale meat safety rules took effect in the 1990’s, thousands of small-scale livestock processors closed.  The lack of those small facilities today is a barrier to increasing sales of locally-produced meats.
  • The rules set up businesses for ‘gotcha’ inspections, instead of helping farmers and small business manage the safety risks relevant to their particular businesses.  Inspectors have financial incentives to find problems and make repeat inspections.

41 thoughts on “FSMA Rules Unfair to Farmers, Bad for Public Health

  1. Without links to primary (or at least trustworthy) sources, this post is pretty much useless. I get that they’re supposed to be “talking points,” but so why not provide a source for each point?? I say this as an organic farmer who’d like to be able to repeat some of these things without having to be like “Uh, I saw it on a blog.”

    • Jacob, The point of a blog is to motivate people, not to give all the finer details. But you’ll note that, on the food safety issue at least, I always give contact info to the NSAC website (http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma), which is a very credible, and rather thorough source of the kind of background information you’re looking for. In this instance, at least, NSAC is far ahead of other agricultural organizations in understanding and reporting the issues involved. Hope you’re working on some comments for FDA, especially with the extra week that has been allowed!

  2. Thank you Brian and Joyce. We are a not a dying breed no matter what the government or large Ag. Conglomerates says or does. Small farms are popping up and it is becoming sexy again. Cows’ rightful place is on a diverse farm where other livestock and vegetables are also growing and thriving. Industrial agriculture is the problem, not the solution. The solution is more small diverse farms selling food to their surrounding region. Let it be so.

  3. Agriculture in Russia was at one time entirely controlled by the government. Farmers had no desire to produce good crops. Agriculture became capital based and mechanized. Many jobs were lost, and many starved to death. Today we would also notice a significant decrease in nutrient value, and a loss of biodiversity. This law would allow for the rich to get richer. It would also lead to more disease, which is another thing we seem to be striving for. More sickness means more money to be made from the healthcare system. It’s all about money. It is time to quit rolling in greed and actually take a look at how these decisions are destructive to life.

    • I guess what we really need is a farmer’s perspective in developing national food system policy. I was recently told by a nationally known consumer advocate that farmers who raise livestock should not be allowed to also raise vegetables. There, in a nutshell, is the problem. How do you explain to a consumer food safety advocate that manure is a good thing — indeed, even a necessary thing — in raising other food? Only a farmer fully understands this.

      • Farmers may be the only people who truly understand farming, but unfortunately, too much of the media actively fosters ignorance in the process of reporting every issue as a controversy or crisis. I don’t know what the cure for ignorance might be under our current system.

  4. Please leave our local farmers alone! It should be each Americans choice who they can purchase their foods from. If you are truly worried about safety you would me making changes that were scientifically proven to help. The changes you are making seem to only be helping a small group of rich industrial farm owners bank accounts. Small businesses, including farmers, play a key role in our economy. We must help them if we want life as we know it to remain the same. With these changes you are proposing, there will be dire consequences in the future. When all the bees die because of your pesticides and all the vegetables are depleted of almost all the nutrients due to poor crop rotation and insensitive farmers there will be more disease, health problems, and economical collapses than you could imagine. Remember, THIS WORLD ISNT GIVEN TO US FROM PUR ANCESTORS, IT IS BORROWED FROM OUR CHILDREN!

  5. I agree with everything you said. In reading the above comments from other readers, I also agree that Monsanto probably has a vested interest- and is likely that Monsanto has put big money and political sway into creating any legislation that would discourage farmers from growing healthy vegetables free of GMO and sprays

  6. Americans have been a force for invention. When something is needed we have stepped up to the plate. So many of us have seen the dark side of processed, sprayed and manipulated food that we have moved toward the plate. The renewal of Urban farming to bring fresh produce to the inner cities has exploded. People want to eat fresh, clean and local! There has been such a hugh growth in small local organics in cities and in rural communities that it is creating an impact on these communities and no dought large Agra business. The growth of aquaponics and greenhouse growing, although not totally sustainable, are a start for cleaner fish (as opposed to imported fish farming) and produce on a year round basis. There are peope right now working on an organic fertilizer for hydroponics. We have all been to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon when the shelves have been depleted. One hickup in the food chain can be devastating. We Americans who have stepped up to the plate understand how important our produce is to our local and semi-local communities. Each of us continueing on to do what we believe is best for ourselves and our communities is a part of what we need. We will persevere. People will eat. Having people, such as Brian, there to help organize and move this force forward is key to our survival. Most of us are not interest in politics. We love the land. We have to move out of our boxes and continue to the plate. Getting to that plate involves not getting an out, so we all have to fight along with Brian. We are all doing the right thing.

  7. Well, I don’t like this one bit! I LOVE my local farmers and don’t want them to loose their farms. These “rules” are unfair for them and need to be rewritten. This is how they make a living, which is probably just making ends meet. How about FMSA include a no modified produce rule?!?

    • FSMA as legislation already has many of the protections in place that we might want (with some areas for improvement, of course). The real problem is whether or not the regulations reflect the intent of the law as passed by Congress. That’s what we’re fighting for in this process, and why we need informed comments to be submitted. It very often happens that regulations go farther than actual legislative language as a response to other, external pressures, as in this case we are seeing from food industry and mainstream consumer “protection” groups.

  8. Having access only to processed foods and modified crops grown from a monoculture will create more health problems. This can be backed up by science and studying cultures that have been denied acces to their traditional foods, and forced to eat processed foods in order to survive. Or simply by looking at the traditional American diet and how new diseases have emerged or become more prolific.
    Unsustainable, monoculture, agri-business type farming is destructive to the environment. This can also be backed up by science when looked at with an open mind, rather than with biased opinions.
    The FDA needs to do its job rather than follow in the lines of greed, even it means taking a stand and speaking against those waving money around. The government needs to listen to the people. What people want is freedom to choose where their food comes from. Farmers must have rights protecting them from the greed of Agri-business. These freedoms will also contribute to a sustainable future, which is ultimately more important than greed if we wish to continue living on this planet. You cannot take your money with you when you go, but you can do something for future generations.

  9. Dear Congress,

    Please leave the “REAL” farmers alone. How about fix this nations crumbling infrastructure? People/Farmers survived on this planet for how long before there was an FDA? We’re not as dumb as you are. Less Gov’t PLEASE!!! Farmers in Communist China have less restrictions.

  10. I have read all the proposed requirements for the FDA. I can only pray that we can petition congress and the White House that these requirement do not take place. It sounds to me that perhaps Monsanto has something to do with this. My question is why do corporations want to poison its people and destroy the planet with pesticides? Does it come down to good vs. Evil?

    • It’s really about money, and there is certainly good and evil in that. Market control is the name of the game, and starting with the spinach scare of 2006 (or even before), Big Ag has been aware that the local/sustainable food movement could be more of a threat than they previously thought. Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent now to convince people that terms like local, sustainable and organic mean almost nothing . . . and then we have these rules too, which push in the same direction, i.e. of containing the public’s interest in and access to something other than the faceless, ordinary food they would otherwise purchase.

    • Petitions will not do anything! I am one to never be negative, but having a farm I am also one to not waste my time on fruitless efforts. The government that you would be petitioning is by and large behind allowing the agri-giants to grow and invade more and more aspects of agriculture. There are good public servants who live by integrity and honor, but there are not enough of them any more. Far too many are self serving at the expense of the public, and a few are ideologically in it to gather as much power and wealth as they can; the wealth that honest businesses and real men and women work for. Grass roots elected officials who are not beholding to the repubs or the dems. Both parties are filled with people who care only about their own little kingdoms.

  11. The head of the FDA was the former head executive/attorney for Monsonto!
    We need serious numbers for Washington to hear us. And pray!

    • Actually, he (Michael Taylor) is not the head of the FDA, but he’s in charge of their food safety division. Having talked with him several times, I’m not convinced that he’s against us. The issue right now is that everyone out there who IS against us is also writing comments, which then FDA (i.e. Taylor’s team) must consider in revising the rules. This is why we all need to get our comments in.

      • My wife and I have spent the last three years creating a permaculture farm in the difficult high mountains of New Mexico. I have watched the politics unfold this last couple of decades and have realized that the left and the right are simply two sides of the same coin. Please consider the fact that a man in power can say one thing and have intentions of doing the opposite or worse. While he talks kindly with you, he is a part of a government system that seeks control. Food production is one of the five facets of society that must be controlled for a totalitarian or despotic government to exist. Make no mistake, those currently ruling from DC are no better and worse than those who ruled in the past regime. They talk the talk and promise much, but they deliver nothing and worse than that, every thing the ruling class of politicians do is engineered to quietly, subtly take control of the population. Simply look at the results of everything they do. The EPA promises to protect the environment, but has been used as a ghestapo to intimidate and shape public opinion. The FDA prosecutes to the nth degree a small farmer who accidentally sell tainted cantaloupes but allow vast chicken factories to cruelly mass produce truly tainted meat. The factory dairies sell milk that is unhealthy, while the powers that be promise that it is safe and even subsidize the industry. At the same time, they tirelessly work to destroy small farmers and markets that try to sell healthy raw milk or milk products.

        And the greatest danger to both freedom and health is that they keep every one stirred up and fighting each other with the illusion of right and left wing politics. The bottom line is that all of us who love freedom and the ability to choose our own course in life must stop fighting each other over issues and politics and stand up to fight those who are taking control of our lives with this kind of evil legislation and actions that cripple choice. The results of this kind of evil legislation is that the small farmer will be kept out of the market place and the population will finally be forced to depend on government managed, government controlled and eventually government run factory agriculture.

        I do not hate government or espouse anarchy, but I have be a student of history for over 40 years and see the same evils like the Holodomor (http://holodomorct.org/) and other atrocities coming around again. Some fools believe that they are serving humanity by these efforts, perhaps, Michael Taylor, and some are simply evil, seeking to be apart of the ruling class. Either way, this is not just a battle about food, this is truly about our freedom to choose how we live. Monsanto is just the tip of the iceberg.

        All who care about such things must quit fighting with each other and unite. Sorry about the rant, but I am so tired of seeing our great country being dismantled piece by precious piece.

  12. What law allows a regulatory body to act outside of the laws set by Congress? No one is above the law, nor can they legally act unconstitutionally.

    Is the ACLU investigating these actions?

    • The regulations are not finished yet, which is why we need your comments to make sure the FDA does NOT go beyond what Congress intended. A lot of it is a matter of interpretation, but we were there when Congress was writing the law, and we know what they intended.

    • Hi Kathryn, the actions of the current crop of rulers in DC is acting outside the law. The problem is that so many people are too busy fighting among each other and chasing our tails like excited poodles that we do not stand up and stop them. The media is complicit because it is owned, run, and controlled by people ideologically aligned with those who think one world control is a good thing. While we protested and occupied Wall Street, the real money and power brokers continue to pull strings. We are not facing the Great and Power Oz, we must turn and face the ‘man’ behind the curtain. Many at the ACLU truly care, but the organization is a part of the system.

    • As frightening as this is, the EPA is also creating law through regulations while bypassing Congress. Washington DC is out of control.

  13. Pingback: call to action to save local farms | Hands to Heart Holistic

  14. Do we know much about the White House’s position? Will they be putting pressure one way or the other. We’ve rarely had a friend of sustainable ag in the White House (does Michelle count?). Am I naive in hoping the White House cares enough about small and sustainable farmers to exert some pressure here?

    • I asked that very question, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, just a little under two years ago. I was underwhelmed by the answer then, and have been since then as well. I’ve learned through hard experience that politicians of all persuasions eventually are taught a lesson that they best not mess with the status quo in ag, and we’ve done nothing convincing to challenge or change that conventional wisdom. It’s not a good situation…

  15. I am a small produce farmer who also uses laying chickens for field cleanup and fertilization, following the requirements of the NOP with regard to manure application. I was part of the informational/comment session that took place with FDA officials at OSU-OARDC (Wooster, OH) last spring. Several of us specifically brought up the fact that manure and compost standards are not supposed to conflict with NOP standards, as directed by Congress. If I had to follow the proposed FDA standards, I would have to fallow approximately half of my production acreage every year if I wanted to continue using manure. The FDA response (given by a former Monsanto executive who now works for FDA) was that the proposed FDA standard will not conflict because it is stricter. In his (paraphrased) words, if we comply with the stricter FDA standard, we comply with the NOP standard, so there is no ‘conflict’. By this logic, just about anything they propose could be considered ‘not in conflict’ with NOP, regardless of whether or not it follows the intent of Congress, or even the letter of the FSMA. I think they are blatantly ignoring the intent of Congress in their rule-making process, and I think that a lawsuit will be the only way to get them to change.

    • You are exactly right. I’ll just point out that, if we can get these things changed now, in the context of the comment process, it’ll be a lot cheaper than doing a lawsuit later. I can dream, can’t I?

  16. I’m not your typical new farmer. I’m 47 years old and left a corporate career to farm without pesticides or GMO’s after I developed a rare form of stomach cancer. I know it can’t be proven, but I know in my heart that the unatural foods I’ve eaten all my life played a role in this. I’ve just gotten started with my CSA on a smaller than shoestring budget, and now I have to worry that all my plans and dreams may go into the tank because of these proposed laws. I’m working harder than I ever have in my life and it discourages me to think it may all have been for nothing. I’ve signed all kinds of petitions and sent in my comments on the FSMA. Lets hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears and they realize the damage their going to cause. To Brian Snyder and all those in the position to speak on behalf of the small farmer, Thank You for all your hard work and giving us a voice. It means so much!

    • This is exactly why we are doing all this work, because in many ways it’s the NEXT wave of farmers who are at risk. While food safety is a legitimate concern for the public at large, the principal message we need to get out there is that local/regional food systems are already working to reduce risk, and they should not be discouraged from doing so even more in the future. We can’t allow these rules to be used to diminish or “contain” this very positive shift in the marketplace!

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