Statement from MacKenzie Bailey, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Food and Drug Administration Listening Session on Proposed Food Safety Rules
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Wooster, OH

Good Afternoon. My name is MacKenzie Bailey and I am the Policy Program Coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

Since our start 34 years ago, OEFFA has been dedicated to promoting and supporting sustainable, ecological, and healthy food systems. Today we have a membership of more than 3,200 dedicated farmers, consumers, gardeners, chefs, researchers, and retailers. Together, we are working to recreate a regionally-scaled farming, processing, and distribution system that move food from farm to local fork.

OEFFA is also an accredited organic certifier, and certifies more than 750 operations throughout the Midwest, many of whom are growers or food processors that will be required to either fully or partially adhere to the FDA’s proposed preventative controls and produce rules.  For this reason we are diligently working to educate and engage our members in the rulemaking process.

We understand the importance of providing safe food, free from dangerous pathogens, and have recently offered a training workshop to our members on methods for meeting Good Agricultural Practices.

Nevertheless, the proposed rules are daunting to many producers and I’d like to address several areas of concern:

First is that of cost. Under the proposed rule Ohio’s many small family farmers will incur expenses, perhaps higher than they can afford. According to the FDA’s own estimates a “small” farm would bear a more than $27,000[1] initial cost of compliance and from then on an average annual cost of nearly $13,000[2]. The average net cash income for farmers nationally was 10 percent of sales in 2011[3]. In other words, initial compliance with the produce safety rule could consume more than half of a small farm’s yearly profits [i.e., a farm with sales of $450,000 making $45,000 profit per year, would see their profits drop to $17,434 in the first compliance year].

This scenario is only more extreme for the “very small” farm, which is estimated to incur more than $22,000[4] in initial compliance expenses [i.e., a farm with sales of $200,000 making $20,000 profit per year, would lose money their first year of compliance].

If the FDA does not address the cost of the proposed rule, many of America’s farmers may face the real risk of going out of business and our nation’s ability to attract future generations of farmers will only become more difficult.

Second is that of conflict with the organic standards. The Food Safety Modernization Act stated that produce standards should not conflict with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) regulations for certified organic production. For example, the NOP allows farms to use raw manure fertilizer if it is applied 120 days (approximately four months) before harvest if the crop’s edible portions come into contact with the soil. Under the proposed rule a nine month restriction period would be required, which is excessive in comparison to the organic standards[5].

Third is that of exemptions. The smallest farms (those making less than $25,000) will be exempted from the produce safety rule, while others fall under a modified requirement status. There are many questions about the withdrawal of such statuses, as well as the restitution process. There need to be clear, predictable steps leading to a withdrawal, rather than a “one strike and you’re out” approach.

Finally, every farmer I have met strives to provide safe food, free of pathogens that cause illness. Training and education for preventing food safety outbreaks is necessary for farmers to succeed. Adequate funding will be needed for plain speak training materials, workshops, and outreach.

Maintaining safe food in this country is essential, but it should not create unnecessarily burdensome regulations that put diversified, sustainable, and organic farms at risk of going out of business. Many of these farms are already at lower risk of creating large foodborne illness outbreaks due to their size, scope, and, for some, alternative farming practices that maintain soil and water integrity.

Thank you for your time.