In its efforts to ensure the safety of food, the US government may actually be ignoring the real problem while shutting down small organic farms.
So says the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group which released a 16-page analysis accusing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in a way that will crush “the country’s safest farmers” while leaving what Cornucopia calls the “root threats to human health” – contaminated manure made on “factory” livestock farms and certain produce-processing methods – untouched.
“In response to deadly outbreaks involving spinach, peanut butter and eggs, Congress acted decisively three years ago to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director at Cornucopia. “Better oversight is needed but it looks like regulators and corporate agribusiness lobbyists are simultaneously using the FSMA to crush competition from the organic and local farming movement.”
The paper noted a recently-released research report by Cornucopia that looks at the FDA’s regulations for implementing the FSMA, along with guidance meant to control Salmonella in eggs from outdoor flocks. The report concludes that such regulations would fall hardest on family farmers, and it alleges that the abuses the regulations were meant to correct “are mostly emanating from industrial-scale farms and giant agribusiness food-processing facilities.”
“The FDA freely acknowledges that the farm cost of implementing their proposed Rule will drive some producers out of business,” the paper says. “Record keeping, testing protocols, and the need for an auditor will cost thousands of dollars. The FDA estimates an approximate annual cost of $4,700 for very small farms and $13,000 for medium-sized operations. In a very narrow margin business, these costs can amount to a significant percentage of a farm family’s net income. And these FDA numbers may be an underestimate.”
The report also says an amendment to the FSMA designed to protect farmers doing less than $500,000 in business will be practically useless; the FDA is proposing that it can still force small farms to submit to the same record-keeping and testing requirements as large enterprises.
“In practical terms,” said Judith McGeary, a member of Cornucopia’s policy advisory panel and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, “the FDA will be able to target small farms one-by-one and put them out of business, with little to no recourse for the farmers.”
Cornucopia’s report says the FDA has “wildly inflated” the number of food-borne illnesses coming from farm production (which the paper defines as “seed to harvest rather than contamination that occurs later in processing and distribution”).
“The proposed rule is a mess,” Daniel Cohen, owner of Maccabee Seed Company, a longtime industry observer, told Cornucopia. “The FDA has much greater expertise on food safety issues from harvest to the consumer, but focused instead on farming issues from planting to harvest. Limited, modest, and more focused steps to improve on-farm food-safety could have produced simple, affordable, effective, and enforceable regulation.”
Cornucopia says the biggest problem is the lack of attention paid to giant concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – otherwise known as factory farms. It says the huge amount of manure stored at these operations is “commonly tainted by highly infectious bacteria that have been polluting America’s air, water and farmlands.”
“Federal regulators propose nothing to address sick livestock in animal factories and their pathogen-laden manure that is contaminating surrounding rural communities, nearby produce farms and our food supply,” Kastel said in the article.
According to the article, the issue of food safety is causing rifts between organizations that have historically been aligned, such as family farm organizations and nonprofits focusing on consumer interests. Some advocates wanted no exemptions to the FSMA act at all.
“Only an idiot would not be concerned with food safety,” Tom Willey, a Madera, California, organic vegetable producer and longtime organic advocate told Cornucopia.
“The antibiotic resistant and increasingly virulent organisms contaminating produce, from time to time, are mutant creatures introduced into the larger environment from confined industrial animal operations across the American countryside,” he added. “The FDA’s misguided approach could derail achievements in biological agriculture and a greater promise of food made safe through respect for and cooperation with the microbial community which owns and operates this planet upon which we are merely guests.”