Public forum on proposed FDA food safety regs planned
WHAT: Public forum on proposed federal food safety rules
WHEN: 6:30-8 p.m. Tues., Oct. 29
WHERE: Center for Independence, 740 Gunnison Ave.
From the perspective of some small local and regional food growers, there are a lot of problems with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed food safety regulations that have emerged from the Food Safety Modernization Act that Congress passed in 2010.
Food safety expert Steve Warshawer said he plans to touch upon issues most relevant to Western Slope food producers at a public forum Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Center For Independence, 740 Gunnison Ave. Western Colorado Congress members from three counties are hosting the event to raise awareness of the proposed rules, and encourage people to participate in the public comment period before the Nov. 15 deadline.
Organizers say the proposed food safety rules were written with large-scale industrial food producers in mind, and that forcing small farmers to comply with costly implementation will drive some small farmers out of business.
“We want the FDA to hear from people on the ground who will be affected,” Warshawer said. “We think the FDA wants to get it right — it’s complicated. But they’re not aware of how local and regional systems work. The (local food) movement has been growing fast.”
Warshawer, who farms near Santa Fe and works as enterprise development manager for La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque, often visits Western Slope farmers.
“We’re a big customer for West Slope fruits and juice,” he said.
Warshawer also works as a consultant for the Washington-based nonprofit organization, the Wallace Center, that addresses the local and regional food supply chain — helping schools, stores, etc., access locally-produced foods.
One of the proposed rules would require frequent and costly water testing by farmers, and does not take into consideration how lands are irrigated in the West, Warshawer said.
“There’s no real science behind the proposed (testing) frequency,” and it places unnecessary financial burdens on small farmers, he said.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, farmers who use water from streams, lakes and rivers would be required to pay for weekly water tests regardless of risk or cost. The FDA estimates the typical cost for one water test is $87.30 — which would add up to thousands of dollars per year for farmers.
As a farmer with a young family, Scott Washkowiak hasn’t had time to read the more than 1,000 pages of the proposed rules. He’s concerned, however, what the proposed rules might mean for his business.
Washkowiak, who runs Field to Fork CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Palisade, supplies 80 families with fresh, local produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. He said the FDA’s proposed changes for using manure and compost to fertilize the soil puts organic and small farmers at a disadvantage.
“The new rule would favor petrol-chemical fertilizers,” at the expense of organic vegetable and animal-based fertilizers, he said.
Under USDA organic standards, for crops that come in contact with the soil, farmers can use raw manure for fertilizer if it is applied at least four months prior to crop harvest. The proposed new FDA rule would increase the waiting period to nine months, “making application of manure fertilizer impossible in a normal growing season on both organic and conventional farms,” according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
WCC community organizer Rachel Zatterstrom who works to promote sustainable farming methods and local foods in the Grand Valley, said local growers are already governed by county food safety regulations.
“The (food safety rule) overhaul was targeted toward large-scale industrial food producers,” Zatterstrom said. “Most food-borne illnesses are not found in small producers.
“We don’t think small farmers should be subject to the same regulations as large-scale, industrial growers. One-size fits all regulations are not appropriate.”
The Food Safety Modernization Act focuses on food safety issues posed by microbial pathogen contamination such as salmonella, e.coli and shigella. It does not address food safety issues concerning genetically-engineered crops, pesticide use or antibiotic resistance. Nor does it change rules for meat, poultry, or egg products — those foods fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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