EDITORIAL: FDA should rethink proposed food-safety rules

FresnoDecember 9, 2013 

Organic farmers like Stephen Paul, right, of Homegrown Organic Farms, and son, John Paul, left, could be adversely affected by a proposed new food-safety law.


Rules being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement a new food-safety law would be burdensome to small and organic farmers at a time when Americans want more food choices.

This is exactly wrong at a time when Americans want more local produce that is fresh and in season; more farm-to-school food options; and less processed food high in saturated fat and sugar, to help reverse obesity and early-onset diabetes in children.

As the nation's No. 1 farm state, with incredible diversity of crops, farm sizes and farm practices, California has a huge stake in the outcome. The FDA has to get modernization of food safety right.

President Barack Obama signed the much-needed overhaul of federal food-safety laws in 2011, the first major update since 1938. But the FDA has to write implementation rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act that ensure safety for all of us and flexibility for different kinds of farmers.

In their current form, however, the FDA's proposed regulations don't strike the right balance. The FDA is drawing a raft of justifiable criticism, particularly for the burdens it would place on small and organic farmers.

The draft, as 36 members of the U.S. House and Senate of both parties wrote on Nov. 22, "would result in a multitude of unintended consequences that would be severely detrimental to national, regional and local agriculture."

The problems with the proposed rules are legion. They conflict with national requirements for organic farming. Organic farmers cannot use synthetic fertilizers, but the FDA's draft would make it almost impossible for them to use untreated manure and compost, essential elements of their farm operations and crop rotations. The rules for manure and compost should be the same under both laws.

The organic rules require four months between application of manure and harvest. That is reasonable and hasn't led to outbreaks of disease. But the FDA's draft requires nine months, limiting the growing season.

In other cases, the rules simply are unclear. For example, are roadside farm stands and farmers markets included in rules about small farmers selling directly to consumers? And what about small farms that sell to food hubs and food co-ops?

The Food Safety Modernization Act was supposed to exempt small farm and food-processing operations to focus resources on higher-risk large operations. But the FDA's draft rules are so inflexible that they ensnare too many small farmers. The rules should be redone and sent out for a second round of public comment.


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