A Forwarded Letter from the Farmers Market Coalition:
Dear Fellow Farmers Market Advocate,
In the last few days, there has been much discussion and speculation surrounding H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, which was proposed by Representative Rosa DeLauro and 39 other co-sponsors and currently under review by two house committees. The bills intention is to centralize most of the current food safety responsibilities of FDA and USDA into one new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. While the bill does not spell out any specific regulations with respect to food safety, it establishes a new framework of oversight to prevent the breakout of food-borne illnesses (like the recent cases involving bagged spinach, peanuts, tainted meat, imported tomatoes, etc.).
Calls to Congresswoman DeLauros office from me and several colleagues have been met by assurances that she is an advocate for small family farms, and that the bills intent is to minimize (or eliminate) the impact on such entities while addressing the challenges posed by a global food supply by more closely regulating imported food. Based on what we know at this point, farmers markets are not considered food establishments under Section 3 (13), and would not be subject to inspection as such.
Food production facilities (including farms), may be subject to additional recordkeeping via a written food safety plan which follow good practice standards under Section 206(2). There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system, or mandate farm inspection. In fact, the legislation specifies that technical assistance would be provide to farmers and food establishments that fit the definition of a small business.
There are also no assurances that, given the current economic climate and the inherent cost of establishing a new administration, this bill will even survive in its current form or at all. To what degree there may be any change to current standards (like GAPs), which are now voluntary for most growers, would be up to the new agency, which is directed to consult with USDA and state departments of agriculture before enacting any new farm production and handling standards. FMC believes that any standards designed to prevent contamination at the farm and market level, whether voluntary or mandatory, must take into account the cost, time, and ability to implement. As many realize, a one-size-fits-all policy would ultimately do a disservice not only to small, biodiverse farms, but to the consumers who value affordable access to safe, fresh, nutritious food directly from the farmer.
FMC recognizes the importance of food safety not only from a consumer health perspective, but also to uphold the integrity of farmers markets and viability of small farms everywhere. Families and individuals across the country put their faith in the quality, safety, and freshness of farmers markets every day, and that investment of faith cannot be taken for granted. Proactive measures to prevent contamination at the farm and market level are good business. FMC's web site has links to several resources developed by various states with regard to food safety at farmers markets, many of which include good recommendations for food storage, handling, and sampling.
FMC is working to ensure that strategies to prevent contamination are science-based, sensitive to scale of production, and friendly to farmers markets and the farmers they depend on. Recently, the Coalition represented farmers markets at a national Good Agricultural Practices summit to support voluntary (rather than mandatory) implementation of the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, which is presently undergoing review for updates. We will continue to stay involved in issues surrounding food safety, and keep you informed of developments that could impact farmers markets and their producers.
Stacy Miller, Executive Director
Farmers Market Coalition