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No Good Farms―No Good Food: Tell the FDA to Back Off


Story at-a-glance -

  • The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act consists of new food-safety rules and laws that make it extremely difficult, and incredibly prohibitively expensive, for small farms to comply
  • Small farms were supposed to be exempt from the burdensome regulations, but the FDA has said it can force small farms to comply
  • The proposed draft guidelines do not recognized that the riskiest practices to food safety come from industrial concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and have a strong bias against organic agriculture
  • You can sign and add your comments to help protect small family farms; the Cornucopia Institute is going to hand-deliver the letters to the FDA

By Dr. Mercola

The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act was enacted in 2011 as a supposed way to ‘better protect public health by strengthening the safety of the food system.’

The Act came in response to a rash of recent deadly foodborne-disease outbreaks involving spinach, peanuts, eggs and other foods. According to the FDA, about one in 6 Americans get sick, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.1

Unfortunately, the FDA does not readily admit the fact that most deadly food outbreaks can be traced back to foods raised on industrial concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

The FSMA, which requires extensive mandatory compliance with new FDA-approved production, growing, harvest and other safety standards, also does not distinguish between the massive CAFO and the small, family-run organic farm... and therein lies the problem.

The FSMA Could Force Small Farmers Out of Business

It is quite possible, perhaps even most probable, that the FSMA is designed to halt the growing trend of small organic farms – not through a direct, frontal assault on organic farming, but rather by insidiously creating rules and laws that make it extremely difficult, and incredibly expensive, for small farms to comply.

And in this case, the rules and regulations created by this proposed bill are mandatory, not voluntary, meaning they apply equally to a tiny farmer with half a dozen cows as to a massive CAFO.

This wasn’t supposed to be the case, as the Tester amendment, which was adopted by Congress in 2010, said the FDA’s new federal requirements would not apply to food producers that have less than $500,000 per year in sales, or who sell the majority of their food directly to consumers or within a 275-mile radius of where it was produced.

This, for instance, would protect small farmers who just sell their fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets or to a local food coop from the extensive new regulations. Unfortunately, it seems this exemption is not what it had originally appeared to be, as small farmers are still seriously at risk.

FDA Seems to Want a One-Size-Fits-All Food Safety Law

As reported by the Cornucopia Institute, the FSMA is not only designed to protect public health; it’s designed to protect industrial agriculture and CAFOs. For starters, they are making it clear that small farms may, in fact, be forced to comply with the new regulations. According to the Cornucopia Institute:2

In reality, these small farms are not really exempt. The FDA is proposing that the agency can, without any due process, almost immediately force small farms to comply with the same expensive testing and record-keeping requirements for factory farms.

The added expense and record-keeping time will potentially force many small farms — those selling to local farmers markets, co-ops and restaurants — out of business instantly.

Just as important, for farms over $500,000 in volume (and there are plenty of excellent medium-sized organic farms in the $1-$3 million range or larger), some of the provisions will not only be economically damaging (some farmers might not survive this) but actually prohibit some basic practices in the

Organic Food Production Act. Yet if all farms, conventional as well as organic, had to follow the organic regulations for manures/composts, we’d have safer produce.”

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CAFOs Are Responsible for the Most Dangerous Foods...

Small family farms are rarely responsible for major food outbreaks – CAFOs, however, are, and this is why they should be more strictly regulated, if not eliminated entirely. For instance:

  • In 2010, over half a billion eggs from two Iowa CAFOs were recalled due to Salmonella poisoning
  • The massive spinach recall in 2006 was due to E. coli commonly found in CAFO cattle
  • In the largest meat recall in US history, 143 million pounds of CAFO beef were recalled because the company did not prevent sick animals from entering the US food supply

Yet the FDA’s draft regulations designed to implement FSMA are not only targeting the CAFOs guilty of the most serious abuses and risks to public health. As the Cornucopia Institute put it:

“...the FDA’s draft regulations designed to implement the new law appear to ignore the will of Congress. Instead, the regulations would ensnare the country’s safest family farmers in burdensome regulations in a misdirected attempt to rein in abuses that are mostly emanating from industrial-scale factory farms and giant agribusiness food processing facilities.”

The FDA’s Draft Guidelines Ignore the Root Causes of Foodborne-Disease Outbreaks

The riskiest pathogens are found on CAFOs, and it is on these giant industrial farms where nearly all pathogenic pollution that contaminates groundwater, fertilizers and the air come from. But the FDA’s draft guidelines do not address the rampant disease on CAFOs, nor their pathogen-filled manure, which contaminates surrounding communities, farms and the food supply, spreading antibiotic resistance in its wake.

The regulations should be targeting high-risk areas to food safety, including CAFOs, and often the processing stage of food production. Yet these are the very practices being ignored or given leniency. The Cornucopia Institute expands on a handful of other issues with the proposed guidelines:3

1. The FDA draft rules do not address a major root source of pathogenic contamination of produce: intensive feeding/confinement of livestock (CAFOs).

2. The draft rules fail to target risky practices, such as fresh-cut produce (bagged spinach and lettuce, etc.), which is inherently riskier, causing over 90% of the E.coli O157:H7 (a particularly deadly strain) illnesses stemming from contaminated produce, according to CDC/FDA data. Yet fresh-cut is not covered in the Produce Rule: it is exempt because it is "processed."

3. The draft rules show a bias against biodiversity.

The proposals would "sterilize" farmland removing habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects which offer biological controls of pests (rather than using toxic agrichemicals). The FDA tends to view farms as food processing facilities: closed controlled environments which need to be sterilized.

4. The draft rules show a strong bias against organic farming methods.

The draft rules fail to discuss how scientific evidence demonstrates that increasing organic matter and biodiversity in the soil can help control pathogenic bacteria. The rule denigrates the effectiveness of thorough manure composting while allowing sewage sludge (banned in organics) in fresh vegetable and fruit production.

5. Agribusiness/government regulation may economically crush our country's safest family-scale farms.

The FDA's own economic analysis of the draft rules acknowledges that certain produce farms and food processors will be driven out of business, and that the cost to a small farm might be as much as $12,000 per year. Large industrial operations already have, as they should, quality control staff and laboratories. Small and medium sized operations do not, due to limitations in terms of economy of scale.

6. The FDA is engaging in "food safety theater" rather than investing in hard research to focus limited resources on the riskiest farms and processors.

The FDA lacks the data to properly assess the risks on organic farms - or on any farms for that matter - yet insists on applying uniform standards, favoring a sterility paradigm based on inadequate science, to all farms. Adequate research is imperative before placing widespread regulatory burdens on family farmers!

7. The egg guidance lacks scientific merit and will hasten a shift of organic production to CAFOs.

The draft guidance makes it expensive and impractical to provide legitimate outdoor access for commercial-scale organic flocks. At the same time, in consort with the USDA, the FDA institutionalizes tiny screened structures as meeting the legal requirement for "access to the outdoors." The FDA has ignored published research that suggests public safety would be improved by addressing giant older buildings, caged production and forced molting.”

You Can Help Protect Small Farmers: Let Your Opinion Be Heard

Do you enjoy purchasing your food from a local farmer’s market, food co-op or community-supported agriculture (CSA) program? Do you believe small organic farmers should be able to continue to provide food to their communities? The Cornucopia Institute has developed a proxy letter that you can print out and sign. They are going to hand deliver these letters to the FDA. They said:

We have heard time and again that regulators and lawmakers, who have no problem blowing off online petitions, sit up and take notice when they receive hard-copy communications – especially when they’re hand-signed and hand-delivered!”

Download your proxy letter now, feel free to add additional comments and concerns on the back of the letter, and mail it to:

The Cornucopia Institute
PO BOX 126
Cornucopia, WI 54827

The Real Power Is in Your Hands

You may feel that there’s little you can do to change the corrupted food system in the US. But the truth is, if every American decided to not purchase food that comes from CAFOs, the entire system would collapse overnight. It doesn't take an act of Congress to change the food system. All that is required is for each and every person, or at least a majority, to change their shopping habits.

Sourcing your foods from a local farmer is one of your best bets to ensure you're getting food that is wholesome and that is grown in a sustainable fashion. I encourage you to visit your local farm directly, if you have one nearby, and also take part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs.

Ask the farmers how they grow their food, bring your children so they can see it first-hand, and revel in the connection you re-establish between yourself and your source of food; it’s a connection that is in many ways a representation of life itself. You can find an ever-increasing number of "eat local" and "buy local" directories, in which local farms across the US will be listed. The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area:

  1. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  2. Farmers' Markets-- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  3. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  4. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  5. FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.