New Food Safety Guidelines Concern Organic Farmers

Discussion
Jul 20, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

A series of new food safety rules are expected to add incremental
costs to all food producers. Ironically, among those most disturbed by
the new guidelines are organic farmers, an industry built on delivering
wholesome and safe products.

“There is a lot of transparency in the organic food system
and we’ve had it in place for several decades and we do so willingly,” Tom
Willey, an organic farmer in California, said recently to Reuters. “The
lack of that is what characterizes industrial producers.”

In June, the Energy and Commerce committee of the U.S. House
of Representatives passed what promises to be the most sweeping reform
of the food safety system in close to 50 years. It came after a string of
food recalls over the last few years.

Under the new legislation, the industry would have to pay
a $500 registration fee per facility to pay for more plant inspections.
Farms, restaurants and retail food establishments that sell their products
directly to consumers, not businesses, are exempt from this fee. There
would be a $175,000 cap on such fees.

Organic farmers claim the definition of a facility is unclear
in the legislation. They also worry that the costs and effort involved
will be overly-taxing on small businesses. Inspections will be more frequent,
taking place every six to 12 months at high-risk facilities and between
18 months and three years for lower-risk locations.

“Based on the escalating cost that would be involved in conforming
to this legislation — administrative fees, record keeping and internal
labor requirements — we can force out of business some of the highest
quality practitioners,” said Mark Kastel, an analyst at the Cornucopia
Institute in Wisconsin.

Mr. Kastel is also skeptical of the success of the guidelines
since many of the producers involved in the spate of recalls are rallying
around them.

“It’s unsettling when grocery associations and major processed
food producers get together and agree with the government that they’re
going to do this without any regard to the high quality organic practitioners,” said
Mr. Kastel.

Discussion Questions:
Do you think the new food safety guidelines will unfairly target small
and medium organic farmers? What impact will the guidelines have on
organic farming and the products that find their way to consumers’
tables?

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12 Comments on "New Food Safety Guidelines Concern Organic Farmers"


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Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

When was the last time (if ever) that any initiative driven by big government and supported by big institutions ever resulted in the stated objectives? Sounds like a “make work/CYA” project. Given the importance of food quality, you would think organic farmers in particular would be supported fully by governments, not interfered with.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 9 months ago

Organic farming was built on producing and supplying good, safe food products. The government shouldn’t make such a claim for what it produces. While I doubt that the proposed regulation and new cost will put an organic farmers out of business I’m inclined to think it is just another doubtful governmental intrusion.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

We can talk about government intrusions, but we howl when corporate greed or careless causes thousands of people to become sick and some to die. Consumers do not trust the food production chain and are demanding action. This will require more inspectors. These inspectors need to be paid. The food industry brought this regulation on itself.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
11 years 9 months ago

Organic farmers need to get their voice heard on this issue. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to protect consumers from the abuses of big processors. Does the organic industry have any history of abuse? If not, the committee needs to provide an exception. Why fix something that ain’t broke?

Meanwhile, thanks to Congress for an industry-funded scheme to fund increasing inspections targeted at those producers who have been causing all the alarm.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
11 years 9 months ago

Organic farming was once explained to me as a “way of growing” foods. I’m still not sure what that means. I suspect it means at low cost and cutting corners. So the government intervention may be a good thing to make sure the organic industry is held to some sort of standards before something really bad happens.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 9 months ago
It may surprise some of you to see me writing this but not all small producers are necessarily good producers. The occasional inspection is a good idea. Many small producers in the UK have refused to apply for an Organic label purely because the inspections are so expensive; it is only sometimes a good thing for consumers when a producer sticks to principles. Also, many small producers sell directly to consumers through farmers’ markets and farm shops. Farm shops fit the description of “retail food establishments that sell their products directly to consumers” which means that the exemption would apply to many small producers. (Although surely retailers are businesses? So producers selling to farm shops, delis or restaurants for example are, indeed, selling to businesses rather than directly to consumers? This is, indeed, confusing.) On the other hand, many American organic producers do not have to follow quite such stringent standards as those in the rest of the world. Many have also become extremely large conglomerates and they, too, need to have their premises inspected.… Read more »
Steven Johnson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

It’s a good thing, No inspections for 3 – 10 years has not served the industry well.

Kevin Lawrence
Guest
Kevin Lawrence
11 years 9 months ago

This legislation has a fowl odor of big business lobbying. Big commercial farmers and producers are the only ones who can handle the added cost of these inspections. This sounds all to similar to the CPSIA regulations that were passed last year for child products. Both typical knee-jerk reactions to respond to specific issues.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This is only one bill of a ton of current legislation that is currently on The Hill for consideration. Yes, this does concern organic farmers, however other bills will, too.

Congress will more than likely muddle the whole thing, so stakeholders need to continue the conversation, as it started on Capitol Hill on June 24. Several industry trade organizations, manufacturers, retailers, government officials, consumer advocates, standards bodies, academia, etc. gathered for an intense discussion on how to operationalize the food safety efforts going on around the world. It isn’t solved, yet, however you can voice your opinion here.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 9 months ago

As a business person I can appreciate the frustration organic producers feel on the issue but as a consumer, I have to say I welcome anything that keeps our food safe to consume. We get taxed on a lot of things that make much less sense.

Like most fees, this cost will just end up on the store shelf.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 9 months ago

Although Tom Ryan’s overview is excellent, if any regulars here have not actually read in detail the proposed regulations and some of the analysis of the new legislation I suggest you take time to go out on the internet and do so. The inspections, registrations, onerous reporting requirements, forfeiture of property, and potential fines (often not for actual bad acts, but for failing to report in a way that satisfies some desk bound bureaucrat’s fancy) will scare responsible small farmers out of business which is the same as “putting” them out of business. If you are a fan of roadside stands, authentic farmers’ markets, and locally grown organic beef and poultry served in restaurants or sold in stores, you should be quite concerned about these regulations, which (as KMLaw points out above) have the mark of industry farm lobbyists hidden behind the flowery skirts of consumer protection.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This just sounds like a way for the big farmers to run out the small ones. No one likes paying extra fees and taxes but $175,000 is not going to affect the big farmer. But it wipes out all the profits for a small farmer. Overall a bad idea.

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