Organic farmers across the country have been worried about how new food safety rules by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will affect their agricultural businesses. FDA inspectors have been visited organic farmers, like Jim Crawford of Hustontown, Pennsylvania, to advise that some tried-and-true organic growing techniques may soon be outlawed. “This is my badge. These are the fines. This is what is hanging over your head, and we want you to know that,” Crawford says the official told him.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2010, was a response to data showing that more than 3,000 people die each year from tainted food in the United States. After tainted cantaloupes were blamed for 33 deaths in 2011, the FDA stepped up farm supervision plans. Although the new food safety law was passed in 2011, it’s still not under effect due to funding and implementation snags.
Food safety advocates point out that contamination doesn’t just occur in large facilities, and that bacteria can seep into produce grown at small organic farms just as easily as in giant processing plants. Critics say the proposed rules go too far, essentially spelling the end of organic and sustainable farming as we know it in America.
These are some of the organic farming techniques that have come under question by the FDA:
- Spreading homemade fertilizers
- Tiling farmland with grazing animals
- Irrigating water from open creeks
According to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, these are some of the ways that the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act may harm sustainable agriculture:
- Small farms with less than $250,000 in sales may go out of business
- Reduce the number of small farms entering the business
- Drive up the cost of organic food for consumers
- Local food distributors will close and new ones won’t launch
- Crops will suffer without fertilizers, like manure
However, not all organic farmers seem doom and gloom in the pending FDA rules. Some farmers who take part in the locally grown food movement insist that contamination is more of a problem for industrial-sized farms, so some of the practices the FDA might ban actually make consumers safer. Over the last couple years, the FDA has backed down from some of its positions and agreed to exempt the smallest farms from new federal inspections.
“At the end of the day, consumers will be paying a little bit more for this. But a few cents here may help avoid a severe illness,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. A final determination of the new FDA rules are expected to be announced by this summer after an extended comment period.