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Food Safety Modernization Act may threaten integrated and expanding farms

THE REPUBLICAN JOURNAL ARTICLE

 

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

By Jordan Bailey

Staff Writer

Maine farmers are concerned that the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is open for comment until Nov. 22, could negatively impact local agriculture.

Polly Shyka and Prentice Grassi have farmed the certified-organic, diversified 5-acre Village Farm in Freedom for 12 years, growing vegetables along with livestock. With food grown on the farm they support their own family and a 125-household CSA, and locally sell poultry, cattle, nursery stock and seedlings.

John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, said Village Farm is “exactly the kind of farm that have been leading the rebirth of farming in Maine and that Maine needs in the future if we hope to have a sustainable food system.”

Over the past 10-15 years, progress has been made by organizations such as Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association and Maine Farmland Trust and by innovative farmers to help build a local, sustainable food system poised to expand its distribution to markets out of state. But farms will not expand if doing so would trigger prohibitively expensive costs of compliance with new rules.

“As it’s written now, our farm may be exempt due to our scale,” Grassi said. “But there are facets to the rule that could threaten the local viability of the local food movement.”

Some of those facets include limitations on the use of compost and the requirement to keep wildlife out of fields.

“For us, manure-based compost and integrated systems of livestock grazing are essential to our sustainability,” Grassi and Shyka wrote in a letter they plan to send to the Food and Drug Administration. “While the proposed rules do rightfully value ‘integrated’ systems, the limitations on animal manures and composts would be prohibitive. We believe the National Organic Standards are adequate in this regard.”

Piotti also noted that small farms, which are exempt from the rules if they only sell directly to the consumer, would have to comply if they begin to sell wholesale.

“Thus, FSMA will be a barrier to exactly the kind of innovation that we are beginning to see — and exactly the kind of experimentation and innovation that is needed if Maine agriculture is to continue to grow,” he said.

The types of farms that would be most affected are integrated vegetable and livestock operations, those that are close to the revenue threshold of $500,000 at which compliance would be required, and those that primarily sell direct to consumers but sell or plan to sell some products wholesale.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is open for comment until Nov. 22. Visit the FDA website at www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA to comment, or sign on to the Maine Farmland Trust’s comments at www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Jordan Bailey, The Republican Journal, (207) 338-3333

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