Local farmers worry about FDA restrictions

By From page A3 | December 27, 2013

Betty Albert

Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, and it appears that with the call for comments on their lengthy regulations that were due Nov. 15, the FDA intends to exercise the significant power the bill gave them.

At the time, Rep. Tom McClintock’s take on the bill was:  Dec. 21, 2010 — HR 2751 HR 2751 — Food Safety and Modernization Act: “NO. Since your grocery bills are obviously much too low, Congress has a solution: hire at least 17,800 more government workers to micromanage every conceivable aspect of food production and distribution. Cost to taxpayers? At least $1.4 billion plus ‘such sums as may be necessary.’”

In Placerville, Chris Hoover, manager of Hooverville Orchards, nodded knowingly.

“We’ve seen these restrictions increase over the years, and have tried to keep ahead of the rules. We consider ourselves a small farm, but we are not exempt. We have to document everything and in great detail. It’s harder and harder to do business with this much required paperwork,” Hoover said.

Hooverville sells to Raley’s and other big retailers, and appears at farmers markets across the state as well. Open every day of the year, this family owned, 75-acre 40-year-old farm produces all the fruit that is sold under the Hooverville name. Although their produce is not certified organic, Hoover proclaims it to be as natural as possible, given all the government restrictions currently imposed.

Hooverville does not fall under the Tester-Hagan amendment to the FSMA bill. This amendment exempts from the 2010 regulations farmers and food producers who sell less than $500,000 annually and who sell more than half of their products directly to consumers or local retailers. With the newly issued proposed regulations, this exemption for smaller farmers is under threat. The FDA wants to judge farmers’ sales based on all their sales, not just the food subject to regulation.

The 144-page proposed regulations, as summarized by Judith McGeary, executive director of the national Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance:

• Leaves too much discretion in the hands of individual FDA officials to revoke exemptions;
• Do not give small farmers and local food producers enough opportunity to respond to a decision to end their exemption and;
• Do not give small farmers and local food producers enough time to comply with the rules if their exemption is revoked.

In addition, even though an excellent track record may exist for farmers using biological soil amendments, the proposed regulation asks a farmer to wait six weeks in between applying compost and harvesting.  Manure would be required to wait nine months before harvest and the FDA goes further, treating all of the following as manure:

• Compost made without specific heating periods (“static compost”);
• Vermicompost or worm castings;
• Compost teas with any additives, even simple molasses or kelp meal;
• Any compost that does not meet the precise methods and testing requirements specified in the rule.

Generic e.coli is not a pathogen or disease-causing organism. Other forms of e.coli are what the FDA is after….farmers might be required to water test and spend thousands of dollars testing something that wouldn’t make a person sick, even forced to use chemicals, find a different water source, etc., according to the proposed regulations.

Paul Mader and Dollie Wolfe own a small organic, but uncertified farm in Placerville, dependent on organic matter for their worms, and worm castings. They also use other forms of aged compost, from farm prunings, aged manure, etc.

“These restrictions would make any crop unusable, “ Mader said. “We have researched the best scientific methods for composting, feeding and raising the worms.”

Mader uses a “windrow system” to feed worms and harvest eggs and worm castings for use in the garden.

“We are conscious of self-sufficiency and live only on what we make in the farmers market each year,” Mader said. “We want our clean produce and worm castings to be available to the public. We don’t want the public to have to buy chemically treated produce. This defeats all purposes of food safety, agricultural sustainability. and environmental capability. Government overregulation could be the ruination of small farming as we know it.”

Gerado Perez is the owner of Perez’ Red Shack, a 13-acre, organically certified exempt farm in Placerville. Together with his family, Perez has been able to grow his farm and produce to more sizable and profitable proportions with direct marketing to the local Raley’s store as well as seven farmers markets per week. There are many difficult, time-consuming and tedious documentation requirements of the CCOF, and Perez says that he isn’t looking for any more paperwork coming from FDA restrictions.

“Costs go up every year. The price of organic seeds alone for a farm my size could cost well over $10,000. It looks like they might put us out of business one way or the other,” Perez said of the proposed regulations.

For producers who don’t qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption or whose exemption is revoked, the Preventive Controls rule requires that any business that packs, holds, processes, or manufactures food creates a Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Control (HARPC) plan. For example:
• A farm that dehydrates fruits, makes pickles, or mills grains;
• Two farms running a joint CSA and handling each other’s produce;
• A farm that stores food from any other farm or producer (even if they do no processing);
• All sorts of “food hubs” that distribute food from multiple local producers.
A producer subject to this rule must develop a HARPC plan, despite the large number of low-risk, normal activities. Developing such plans can cost thousands of dollars – up to $20,000 – for a small operation in the first year. The rule then requires annual “verification” that the plan is working, with records of this verification process and its findings, at continued significant expense.
• Text of the Produce Safety Rule:
Text of the Preventive Controls/ HARPC rule:

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