Proposed FDA Rule Threatens Small Farms and Food Businesses
The FDA is proposing a new rule that would apply to almost everyone involved in the food system, including farms, cottage food operators, co-ops, and restaurants. For foods that FDA lists as “high risk,” the proposed rule imposes extensive record-keeping requirements, including electronic spreadsheets, GPS coordinates of where the foods are grown, and the location, date and time that the food is harvested, cooled, packed, shipped, or used as an ingredient in another food.
The list of foods that FDA considers to be “high risk” includes soft and semi-soft cheeses, eggs, seafood, leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes, and more. See the entire list in the proposed rule at https://beta.regulations.gov/document/FDA-2014-N-0053-0056 (Scroll down to Table 2). And the agency is reserving the right to add yet more foods to the list in the future.
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The major foodborne illness outbreaks have certainly revealed problems with traceability – but that’s in the large-scale, conventional food system. From spinach to peanut butter, the problems arise because raw ingredients are taken to a central processing facility, which leads to widespread contamination, and then the products are packaged under dozens (if not more) of brand names and shipped all over the country. Small-scale operations with short supply and distribution chains are both inherently lower risk and easier to trace.
While the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) included the Tester amendment to exempt small-scale farms and food businesses from many of its provisions, the exemption doesn’t specifically apply to the provision for additional traceability requirements on high-risk foods. Even so, these requirements should only apply to “facilities,” which would exclude farms and “retail food establishments” (those whose primary purpose is to sell direct-to-consumer, such as grocers, restaurants, and cottage food producers).
But FDA has expanded the scope of this provision to cover everyone who manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food. And the agency interprets those terms to include people who grow the food, i.e. farmers.
The agency has proposed some very small exemptions:
- Food grown or made solely for personal use.
- Farms that sell $25,000 of less of produce annually.
- Businesses that sell $25,000 or less of food annually.
- Egg producers with less than 3,000 hens.
- Nonprofit food establishments, such as food banks or soup kitchens.
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