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Action Alert: FSMA Round II!

We need YOU! New draft rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act are available for public comment until December 15. These rules could have a huge impact on Maine farmers: join in and SUBMIT A COMMENT!

Vegetable farmers have previously been fairly regulation-free. Unlike meat and dairy, which have a high risk of pathogens and thus more stringent government oversight, vegetables have not historically prompted a high level of concern for food-borne illnesses. Yet due in part to an increasing number of outbreaks in products like spinach, tomatoes, and cantaloupe, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2010, signed into law in 2011.

Since then, the FDA has been exploring how to implement the law: establishing the specific regulations to be enforced, particularly standards for produce production and food safety rules for processing facilities (the two rules that relate to food consumed by humans). Last year, FDA publicized drafts rules, and made them available for public comment. Many individuals and organizations, including Maine Farmland Trust, submitted comments. As a result, FDA changed a number of the regulatory details. In September, FDA introduced a “re-proposal” of several measures, once again available for comment. This is a rare second opportunity to voice our thoughts on the proposed regulations.

FSMA was created primarily to address the dangers inherent in large-scale commercial agriculture, the sort that is found much more prevalently in California than in Maine, and as such many of the rules unduly burden small-scale producers (although the revised rules are much improved). The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) created a task force to examine the new rules (including groups like the National Young Farmers Coalition and New England Farmers Union), focused particularly on how they would affect small- or moderate-sized producers. Maine Farmland Trust is joining their national effort to reach out to farmers, consumers, and food businesses to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules.

More detailed information can be found on NSAC’s website, but here are a few important points:

  • Specifying a period of time to wait after applying manure to a crop, before you can harvest. This was changed considerably from the first draft of the rule. More here.
    • One potential change would be to include an incentive to compost in the new regulations.
  • Clarifying the definition of a farm, as opposed to a facility: currently, any processing at all (perhaps even including mixing salad greens) would make a farm subject to the more stringent regulations that apply to “facilities.”
  • Establishing a baseline for water testing, which is required by the new rules (more here).

Learn more about NSAC’s take on the issues on their website.

The full law can be found here. Details on the produce rule are here (at a glance here), and on the preventative standards rule here (at a glance here).

Submit a comment here! Instructions from the FDA about how to comment can be found here. The FDA is particularly interested in hearing stories from farmers, and scenarios of how exactly the regulations will apply to them. If you are a farmer, please review some of the information and comment! Pass the word along to any farmers you know to do the same.

Finally, Maine Farmland Trust will itself be submitting comments, and these comments will be much more powerful if we can tell FDA that they are supported by a large number of concerned citizens. Thus, when we have our comments ready for submittal (probably about December 9), we will be reaching out by email to try to get people to “sign on” in support.

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