The Food and Drug Administration was given permission by Congress in 2010 to regulate practices on farms across the nation. Now small farms, many of whom use organic farming techniques, are finding that the methods they have been using for years, including spreading house-made fertilizers, tilling their farmland with grazing animals, and irrigating with water from open creeks, are coming under assault. The 2010 act, titled the Food Safety Modernization Act, was a response to data that showed 3,000 people die every year in the U.S. from tainted food, while tens of millions are made ill from eating food that is tainted. Concerns about bioterrorism also played a role.
In 2011, 33 people died across the nation from eating tainted cantaloupes, which triggered the FDA to be more aggressive in pursuing its supervision of farms.
Dave Runsten, policy director for Community Alliance with Family Farmers in Davis, Calif., said, “They are going to drive farms out of business. The consumer groups behind this don’t understand farming. They talk out of both sides of their mouth. They demand these one-size-fits-all regulations, then say, ‘I don’t want to hurt those cute little farmers at the farmers market. I shop at the farmers market.’ It is frustrating.”
It doesn’t help the FDA’s case when they sound out-of-touch; just recently Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) chastised Michael Taylor, a deputy commissioner with the FDA, noting that one draft set of rules from the FDA wrote that kale is “never consumed raw.” She responded, “I was going to offer to make a kale salad for you. It causes you to wonder if those who are writing these rules have ever set foot on a farm.”
But Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, had a different view, saying, “We don’t believe large facilities are the only place where outbreaks are happening.” She noted that farm-to-fork growers need to see that E. coli and other bacteria are a danger to their produce just as much as they are to the produce of giant processing plants. She added, “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.”
Meanwhile, examples abound of farms losing business as a result of the FDA’s rules; Don Bessemer, the owner of the last working farm in Akron, Ohio, which had fed locals for 117 years, gave up, and 30 workers lost their jobs. Bessemer commented to the Akron Beacon Journal that he would fight pests and even drought, but not bureaucrats.
Taylor pointed out that the FDA is softening its stance; and added that thousands of the smallest farms would be exempt from new inspections.