December 15, 2014 marked the closing of the second comment period on the Food Safety Modernization Act, otherwise known as FSMA. MFT submitted comments on drafts both this time and last year, and hope that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will again take note.
In the last round of comments (November 2013), the FDA was reasonably receptive to the concerns of farmers and consumers across the country, and we were glad to see a number of key revisions. However, there are still more changes that need to be made to avoid stymieing innovations in sustainable agriculture.
As the rules are currently written, farms will have fewer incentives to scale up or to diversify, which are exactly the kinds of activities needed to create a resilient and viable regional food system. A small amount of processing currently means that small farms would then be subject to much more regulation across the board, where the processing is often only a small piece of a larger enterprise. Overall, the proposed rules do not respect the form of agriculture practiced in places like Maine, and thus will constrain farming’s future.
Specifically, our primary concerns with the Produce Rule and the Preventative Controls Rule (the two proposed regulations that we submitted comments on this time) are:
- The scope of coverage, and the high cost of compliance. This is probably the most worrisome aspect of the regulations overall, and not something that can be easily fixed. We are concerned that even with some important changes in the regulations, many of the rules add too many additional costs for farms who already have tight budgets, and will put them out of business. We very much hope that FDA will consider providing grant funds to help pay for compliance.
- The unclear definition of a farm as opposed to a facility. It is still not clear that certain ventures, like CSAs and roadside stands, will not place small farms under the more stringent regulations of “facilities.” Their definition of a farm is currently limited to one general physical location, under one ownership; we know that many farms in Maine do not conform to these restrictions and would be severely burdened by the proposed rules as they currently exist.
- Limitations on off-site aggregation facilities. This could hinder efforts to move more food from smaller farms into wholesale markets; relatedly, some of the definitions of processing activities need to be clarified as well.
- The still too-stringent standards for water testing, and the future of manure application standards. Water testing standards are still entirely impractical for farmers. FDA also needs to ensure that their rules do not prevent farmers from integrating animals into a working farm in the Produce Rule.
Thank you to those of you who submitted comments, and those who signed on to our comments. We joined more than 70,000 commenters and the Preventative Controls Rule and 39,000 commenters on the Produce Rule. Let’s hope the FDA listens!