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IL Farmers Say Revised Food-Safety Rules Still Fall Short

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PHOTO: Some Illinois agricultural supporters say the FDA needs to do more to protect small farmers as it revises the Food Safety Modernization Act. Photo credit: TRiggin/morguefile.
PHOTO: Some Illinois agricultural supporters say the FDA needs to do more to protect small farmers as it revises the Food Safety Modernization Act. Photo credit: TRiggin/morguefile.
 By Mary KuhlmanContact
December 1, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Some agricultural groups in Illinois say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to go back to the drawing board as it works to revise the Food Safety Modernization Act proposed last year. Executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance Wes King says while the changes are a significant improvement over the original proposal, the draft still burdens family farms and could hurt local food production.

"Nobody in the farm world wants to take food safety lightly; we all take it seriously," King says. "We just believe we have to make the rules right, they have to be scale and risk appropriate, and not drive small farms out of business."

King says a main area of concern is the inconsistent classifications of farms and facilities. Operations classified as facilities could be expected to comply with regulations meant for large industrial processing facilities, which can be expensive. King also takes issue with what he says are stricter standards for the use of surface water, as well as excessive requirements for water testing which, he adds, would burden farmers with unnecessary paperwork and costs.

Congress directed the FDA that farmers' markets and Community Supported Agricultural programs not be labeled as facilities, but King says the regulations failed to do that. He adds it's unclear how they would comply with the rules.

"The real fear is they're going to treat them like a facility that would be aggregating and bringing in product from hundreds of different places and processing and packaging and distributing it around the country, which is just not what a farmers' market is," he says.

A positive change, according to King, is that the FDA backed away from a proposed soil amendment that would have required farmers to wait several months between harvest and the use of manure for composting.

"They've said, 'We're going to study this for several years and work with stakeholders to see if we can figure out a better method of doing this,'" King says. "They also said, 'We're going to revert to the National Organic Standard for compost.'"

The FDA says the changes are based on the thousands of comments submitted on the first draft, and the changes make the original proposals more flexible, practical and targeted. Comments will be accepted on the revised draft until December 15.

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