Our federal lawmakers and regulatory agencies are making important decisions about food safety that could make or break the livelihood of Ohio’s farmers, their families, and the consumers who count on them.
While ensuring a clean, safe food supply for consumers is paramount, new food safety regulations could have the effect of squeezing out small farms by creating new layers of bureaucracy for Ohio’s small farmers, including burdensome paperwork, onerous fees, and impractical and prescriptive “one size fits all” production practices.
In Spring 2011, the USDA announced that it would be moving forward with the creation of a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA), a marketplace agreement which would outline production and handling regulations for a long list of leafy green vegetables.
The agreement would establish a governance structure which would allow the largest leafy green produce handlers to develop safety rules governing the growing and handling practices for leafy green vegetables. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would decide whether or not to approve the industry-written standards, after receiving public comment, although the AMS has no authority over produce food safety, and little expertise on the subject.
The proposed agreement is based on a proposal made by the nation's largest produce marketers, and is mirrored on a similar agreement already in place in California, which was initially conceived after the spinach scare of 2006, and has had devastating effects on small farmers in California. The California agreement is biased against the use of non-synthetic, natural nutrient sources commonly used in organic production, in favor of chemical fertilizers. In addition, the California agreement has provided strong incentive for farmers to remove wildlife habitat bordering growing areas, in stark contract to federal organic standards, which require organic farmers to promote biodiversity on their farm.
Proponents of the proposed NLGMA have stated that the agreement is voluntary, implying that small and organic farmers may just "opt out." However, the agreement is only voluntary to the handlers, not to the growers that supply those handlers.
OEFFA has been opposed to the NLGMA since as early as October 2009, when OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland provided testimony opposing the marketing agreement at a USDA hearing in Columbus.
As an alternative to the NLGMA, the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association has worked to develop a proposed Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement (OPMA), a state-specific produce safety standard. The OPMA includes a set of standards related to four areas of concern: the use of compost and manure, water, worker hygiene, and produce traceability.
This Ohio-based standard is designed as a three tier system to be appropriate to the size and distribution plans of each operation, although farmers and sellers at all tiers would have to receive training from OSU on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and on the core standards. Tier 1 is designed for farmers who direct market at roadside farm markets, farmer’s markets, and CSAs. Compliance is voluntary and inspections are random. Tier 2 is designed for intra-state sellers of produce like produce auctions. Compliance is mandatory and inspections are scheduled. Tier 3 is designed for inter-state sellers. Inspections would be mandatory and unannounced.
SB 309, which gives the Ohio Department of Agriculture the authority to create a voluntary marketing agreement, was signed into law by Governor Kasich in fall 2012.
In November 2010 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). On December 21, 2010, the House voted to pass the Senate version of the bill, which was signed into law by President Obama later that month.
The Food Safety Modernization Act significantly increases federal jurisdiction of food by giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to quarantine the movement of food within a state without judicial oversight, levy fines against food producers for reasons unrelated to food safety, require extensive food traceability systems, expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to include food, and require farms to prepare Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans.
Sustainable agriculture groups succeeded in winning several improvements to S. 510, making it significantly better than the companion bill passed by the House of Representatives (HR 2749). The following pro-sustainable agriculture amendments were a part of the final bill:
- Senator Sanders' (D-VT) amendment requires the FDA to write regulations to determine low risk on-farm processing activities that can be exempt from regulatory requirement;
- Senator Bennet's (D-CO) amendment reduces unnecessary paperwork and streamlines requirements for farmers and small processors;
- Senator Stabenow's (D-MI) amendment creates a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for farmer food safety training;
- Senator Boxer's (D-CA) amendment eliminates anti-wildlife habitat language from the bill; and
- Senator Brown's (D-OH) amendment on traceability requirements include exemptions for direct marketing and farm identify-perserved marekting.
- Senator Jon Tester's (D-MT) exempts small farm and small food processing facilities as well as small and mid-sized farmers who primarily direct market their products to consumers, stores, or restaurants.
Two years after President Obama signed the FSMA into law, the FDA released proposed standards for produce safety and preventative controls for human food production in January 2013. Together, these rules impact about 80 percent of the nation's food supply regulated by the FDA.
Many farm advocates are concerned these regulations will impose an unfair burden on our nation's family farms. That's why it's essential for OEFFA members to speak out to ensure new regulations address the needs of local and sustainable farmers, while also protecting the safety of our food. The FDA will accept written comments on the proposed rules through May 16, 2013. Learn more here.
Learn More — Read about the proposed food safety rules and what you can do here.
Find Advocacy Information and Resources — Click here.
Donate — With so much on the line, OEFFA is working to demand policies that work in the interest of the small- and mid-sized family farmers who produce some of the country’s safest, freshest, and healthiest food. Make a donation now to help OEFFA make sure that any new food safety regulations protect consumers and Ohio’s small farms and local food systems.