Will FSMA Implementation Put American Family Farmers at Competitive Disadvantage? [Opinion]
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is currently being implemented. This Obama-era legislation will ultimately bring FDA inspectors or state deputized inspectors (possibly armed) to our farms. My one hope was that our President, who has promised to do away with burdensome regulations, would be more supportive of family farms struggling with FSMA compliance. But, he seems to have forgotten about these onerous and unnecessary rules and needless additional bureaucracies.
A primary objection is that farmers already know we are responsible for bringing healthy food to market. As direct-market farmers, we have every incentive to do so, or we’d have no customers.
A second concern is that a “sterile” food system is unhealthy and unscientific. In fact, our “gut” needs a diverse microbiota or our immune system will be unable to cope with the bacteria, E. coli, and germs already in our environment.
On our farm, we use a “probiotic” approach to raising fruits and vegetables. We introduce diverse and healthy bacteria to our produce to enable them to better resist insects and disease.
Will FDA FSMA inspectors and deputies have enough farming knowledge to understand these concepts? Or will they shut us down?
Across the country, some farm groups, including purportedly Farm Bureaus, are opposing the implementation of FSMA. Those groups and others are urging the White House to eliminate or de-fund the possible 600-plus inspectors to be trained to inspect farms (currently there are 30 inspectors are being trained). And state departments of agriculture are being urged by farmers to question FSMA and advocate for their producers rather than enforcing questionable regulations.
The first FSMA Produce Rule farm inspections are delayed until 2019. So, now is the time to weigh in with states while they’re working with FDA to develop inspection protocols and “On-Farm Readiness Reviews.” Be aware that FSMA is a source of revenue for many of these same state ag departments who have received training contracts and whose staff will ultimately be enlisted as FDA paid inspectors to enforce the regulations.
Also know that the original exemption for farmers grossing under $500,000 will largely be phased out. Larger farms will have fewer problems implementing the regulations. It is the family farms that will have more difficulty coping with a possible $25,000 to $50,000 average cost to convert their operations to comply with FSMA — not to mention additional burdensome continuous recordkeeping and annual reporting requirements.
It is critical to raise these questions and concerns now, to ensure implementation does not become too prohibitive for family farms and threaten their existence.