Editorial: Proposed food safety rules costly for small Valley farms

July 29, 2013
Daily Hampshire Gazette

Local farmers are right to be concerned about proposed regulations in the works under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Advocates for New England farmers maintain they stand to be unfairly burdened by the rules, which among other things require farmers to test groundwater monthly or river water weekly when used for irrigation, keep animals out of fields, not fertilize fields with manure within nine months of harvest and implement worker training programs on hygiene.

Understandably, farmers are worried about anything that is costly and time-consuming. For small farmers operating on the edge, with so many variables already beyond their control, the added burden could mean the difference between staying afloat and going under.

The rules have been proposed by the Food and Drug Administration, where officials acknowledge that they will drive some small, higher-cost producers out of business. This is just the sort of operation that is plentiful in the Valley.

Now is the time for farmers to speak up, while the public comment period is open, and press for flexibility and common sense to these rules.

The FDA has estimated the cost to comply with the regulations as proposed is about $4,697 for small farmers who gross between $25,000 and $250,000 a year and about $13,000 for farms that have sales between $250,000 and $500,000.  But farmers and those who advocate on their behalf maintain that is an underestimate — they say the actual cost is more likely to be double.

During the busy growing season, the time required for weekly water testing is onerous — and we question whether it is necessary.

Everybody’s all for food safety, but regulations must be sensible, too, taking into account the track records of individual farms.

One idea pitched by Rich Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, is to exempt farms already certified in food safety under the state’s Commonwealth Quality Program.

This initiative, launched in 2010 by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and farm, fishery and forestry leaders, aims to promote local agriculture and help consumers identify products produced, harvested and responsibly processed. These products carry a “Seal of Commonwealth Quality” to distinguish Massachusetts products that meet requirements of the comprehensive program as well as federal, state and local regulatory regulations. The seal appears on certified Massachusetts produce, dairy, seafood and lumber products sold at farmers’ markets and retail locations across the state.

It stands to reason that farms that meet standards set by this program don’t need to jump through another hoop. The FDA should recognize this.

Another early criticism of the proposal is that some of the regulations are vague and unenforceable. And there are not yet FDA inspectors able to check that farms are in compliance.

There is time to speak up. The FDA needs to be mindful that these regulations are not one-time upgrades for which farmers might get a capital loan, but costs that must be factored in to annual operating costs.

The comment period ends Sept. 16. Written comments go to Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305) Food and Drug Administration 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD, 20852 or posted online at, where comments must be linked to the proper regulations.