"Great problems call for many small solutions."
- Wendell Berry
Testimony of Russell Libby
Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association
Before The Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture
U.S. House of Representatives
May 8, 2012
“Small Changes Make Big Differences on the Ground”
Good morning Chairwoman Schmidt and Honorable Members of the House Agriculture Committee. I am Russell Libby, Executive Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA. MOFGA is the largest state level organic organization in the country, with about 6500 member farms, businesses, and households. Formed in 1971, we started the country’s first state organic certification program in 1972 and an apprenticeship program to match new farmers with experienced teachers in 1975, and hired the first organic ‘extension agent’ in 1986. We now have 26 employees who work on services to farmers, education, and outreach to the general public.
MOFGA’s annual harvest celebration, the Common Ground Country Fair, draws 60,000 people each September to Unity, Maine, a town of 2400, making it the country’s largest organic food event. We also run a highly successful new farmer training program. Of the 140 program participants over the past 12 years, 87% are currently farming. Our USDA-accredited organic certification program includes about 5% of the farms in Maine, and about 20% of the dairy farmers.
MOFGA has been in business for 40 years, and in that time, we have witnessed tremendous growth in organic agriculture and in the opportunity for farmers to rebuild local economies through food production. Our farmers have built a robust direct-to-consumer marketing movement in Maine, with close to 150 farmers’ markets and several hundred farmers offering Community-Supported Agriculture programs that supply about 2% of the families in Maine with produce, summer and sometimes winter, and an increasing array of products. With a number of small investments and no-cost policy changes, the 2012 Farm Bill can facilitate this growth and opportunity.
We are a member of the National Organic Coalition, and work closely with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, so our Farm Bill priorities reflect theirs in many ways.
The Horticulture title of the Farm Bill is critically important for organic farmers. The National Organic Program does an increasingly good job of working through issues that confront organic food producers and processors around the country. The Specialty Crop Grants program is a long-overdue recognition of the needs of fruit and vegetable farmers from around the country.
- Fund national organic certification cost-share at the level included in the Senate farm bill voted out of Committee. Organic agriculture is a strong and growing sector of American agriculture, and organic certification cost-share is an investment in business development for agriculture. Many organic farmers rely on the cost-share program to help them access markets (retailers, specialty food processors). The program also enables farmers to remain in the organic market by offsetting annual certification costs for farmers. Organic producers must meet strict organic standards to be certified, and the costs of certification are going up. As the requirements for the National Organic Program become more strictly defined, the time farmers spend in recordkeeping and compliance increases substantially. Without national organic certification cost-share, farmers here at home will opt not to certify, and organic companies will have to source organic product from overseas instead of from American farmers to meet strong consumer demand.
- Encourage more organic farmer participation in critical conservation programs. The 2008 Farm Bill included important provisions in Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for organic farmers in recognition of the historical lack of participation and conservation benefits of these systems. However, both programs are in need of reform to address the unique needs of organic farming systems. Issues such as the unfamiliarity of NRCS staff with organic systems, overlapping planning requirements with the National Organic Program, and lack of adequate planning assistance should be addressed in the next Farm Bill. By the way, one of the places that we’ve been very successful in the past few years is getting our new young farmers to participate in NRCS programs, which helps to strengthen the base for that agency long into the future.
- Help the National Organic Program (NOP) to be more effective. The National Organic Program enforces the national organic standards, accredits certifiers, develops equivalency agreements, handles complaints – in essence, NOP ensures the integrity of the organic seal. These are essential functions to the survival and growth of the organic sector. Additionally, the program requires a capital investment in innovative technologies that will position the program to be able to grow with the organic sector, providing domestic and international oversight, and transparency and streamlining of systems, data, and information. NOP should receive a one-time infusion of $5 million in mandatory funds for the technology upgrade, and then should be authorized to receive appropriations increasing at a rate of 20 percent annually beginning with $10 million in FY 2013.
When things work right, the full range of USDA programs make a significant difference to farmers and the general public. Linking nutrition programs to access at farmers’ markets, expanding EBT programs, developing more opportunities for farmers to supply the school lunch program—all of these things make farmers more profitable.
The largest programs within the Farm Bill are embedded in the Nutrition Title. If farmers are not able to provide food through programs in the Nutrition Title for the people who need it the most, they are shut out of a major income stream. If the people who are eligible for nutrition assistance do not have access to fresh, local produce, they may not get the full nutritional benefits from the assistance they receive. Connecting farmers with consumers who participate in nutrition assistance can benefit producers and consumers.
How can you help this to happen?
- Make it easier for farmers to access EBT programs. The range of marketing options has widened dramatically over the past decade, with farmers’ markets, CSAs, farmstands, buying clubs and other options. Please amend Section 7(h) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to treat wireless retail food vendors as fixed locations stores are now treated.
- Increase the ability of school lunch programs to source directly from farmers who meet their standards by:
- Allowing flexibility in schools. Rather than requiring produce purchases through the DOD Fresh program, allow schools the option to use their DOD credit to purchase food directly from local farmers. (Requires amending Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh program in Section 10603(b) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.
- Similarly, allow schools to use 15% of their ‘commodity’ dollars to purchase locally available foods that in turn help to support their communities. This addresses a key tension in many rural communities. Farmers support their schools through property taxes, and in turn would like their schools to be able to support them through purchases.
Other programs important to the whole.
Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program. As interest in direct markets grows, farmers innovate to supply more. The expanded Farmers’ Market Promotion Program continues to serve direct marketers, but also includes those farm businesses that are trying to develop farm to institution and food hub opportunities across the country. It deserves more funding: the $30 million proposed in the Local Foods, Farms and Jobs Act will only scratch the surface of the current interest. Every new market opened or expanded through the program provides more jobs and keeps money circulating in the many participating communities.
Seeds and breeds. I understand that the prevailing worldview is that the solutions for the future revolve around biotechnology, but I want to say a few words in favor of all-purpose, traditional breeding. In the late 1800’s, farmers in my part of western Kennebec County, Maine, were deeply engaged in the refinement of the Hereford as a cattle breed suitable for the U.S. The dry bean varieties that work in our humid Northeast climate were selected over long stretches of time by farmers, and then further refined by plant breeders at public universities. Even now farmers in New England benefit from plant breeding done at the University of New Hampshire by Brent Loy, who has developed melons and pumpkins that thrive in the Northeast. In our rush to the cellular approach, I hope we don’t lose sight of the value of traditional plant breeding. The Seeds and Breeds provisions of the last Farm Bill were a good starting point, but we need the public plant breeders and the long-term commitment to make those varieties available.
Expanding Economic Opportunities
In conclusion, markets for farmers are changing rapidly. There are thousands of new farmers’ markets around the country and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are also rising in number. In Maine, the number of farmers’ markets has grown tenfold in the past 30 years, and CSAs now supply about two percent of Maine families. While this growth in direct producer-to-consumer marketing it exciting, there is a nearly untapped marketing opportunity at the wholesale, retail, and institutional level of sales. Through your actions with the Farm Bill as I have outlined above, you can give this stage of marketing the jumpstart it needs. This larger scale represents the bulk volume of food sales, and it is in this area that the next generation of farmers is working to make inroads. With your help, small changes can truly make big differences on the ground.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer questions.
|| Food Safety Legislation Updates
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Senate likely to vote on food safety legislation soon, while FDA moves forward with regulatory process
Russell Libby, Executive Director, March 15, 2010
Last week I spent several days in Washington meeting with a number of Senate staffers on food safety legislation, along with other farm group representatives from around the country. We focused on S. 510, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.”
After a year of meetings and conversations, with the House, the Senate, FDA and USDA, and with consumer groups, it’s clear that we’re approaching the end of this process. The Senate is planning to vote sometime after they return from their April recess.
Our most recent conversations were slightly encouraging. The staffers were all aware that the bill could have an impact on many farmers, particularly those doing value-added activities on their farms. They want to do something to ameliorate that impact, but so far nothing has showed up in the final language. Brian Snyder from the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture wrote language that would provide some protection for farms/businesses that produce ‘identity-preserved’ products that move all the way from farm to final consumer. We’re supporting that in our conversations with Senate staff.
Meanwhile, FDA has released a request for comments on how they should go about regulating the produce industry. We have about 45 days to get a response in. We’ll be drafting language from MOFGA, and we’ll give you information about how you can send your own comments. Look for something from us next week—we know that the growing season is almost upon us, so it will be good to get comments in before you have to get outside and work on planting.
If you’re interested, I pulled together a table that estimates how many farms across the country will be affected by the various Congressional proposals. For the country as a whole, it could be as many as 314,000 farms; for Maine, over 3,000.
FDA Request for Comments: Link http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-3409.pdf
If you have a chance, please contact your Senators’ offices and encourage them to be aware of the potential impact of S 510 on your farm. (More details in prior posting, here==1.24.10 update: http://www.mofga.org/Programs/PublicPolicyInitiatives/MOFGAPositionStatements/FoodSafety/tabid/1102/Default.aspx
For more information, please feel free to contact me directly: Russell Libby email@example.com 207.568.4142
Food Safety -- Where are we headed? A brief summary…
Congress is likely to revisit food safety legislation sometime in the weeks ahead. Last year the House approved HR 2749, The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions unanimously approved a version of S. 510, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, but didn’t send it on to the full Senate for consideration before the end of 2009. Although there are some minor (and a few major) differences, the bills are similar.
Russell Libby, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
January 24, 2010
Here are the critical issues, based on MOFGA’s involvement and the shared perspectives of the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Facilities. Any business that is defined as a facility by FDA has to meet certain criteria.
Farms are exempt from these requirements in the Food Bioterrorism Act, and in HR 2749 and S 510, except for the substantial problem that the definition of a farm ends very close to the harvesting of the product. Many things farmers do (like put produce into packages and put labels on them, or cook maple sap into maple syrup, or make value-added products on the farm) potentially turn the farm into an FDA-regulated facility. Whether the facility is then exempt, or covered, depends on how much of the product is sold directly to consumers at retail (a majority, and the farm/mixed use facility is potentially exempt). However, if some or all of their products are already considered risky by FDA, the farm may again become a mixed-use facility, and then be regulated.
- Register with FDA (already required under the Food Bioterrorism Act of 2002)
- Pay a $500 per year annual fee (House bill; Senate bill has no fee structure)
- Have a food safety plan that describes the processes used by the business, and how
- food safety is monitored and assured (equivalent to a HACCP plan)
- Have a food defense plan (how the facility is going to be protected from terrorists,
- including cyberterrorists). (This, too, is part of the Food Bioterrorism Act of 2002.)
- Have a system for traceability
This has been MOFGA’s focus for the past year -- more clarity about when a farm becomes a facility, and why.
Produce. Both the House and Senate bills make even more explicit FDA’s ability to regulate the produce industry. The House bill, and tentative Senate language, would link this to existing standards, including the National Organic Program. However, FDA has been moving ahead with ‘guidance documents’ that would have the force of regulations. In July, FDA released documents for melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens. Comments were due by early January. The 150 pages contain a wealth of detail -- and really are not scale-appropriate. But they will have the effect of becoming de facto rules once released in final form.
Exemptions. Even though the bulk of the food safety outbreaks in the U.S. are traced to meat, the only mentions of meat in the proposed legislation reinforce the existing laws so that USDA has total jurisdiction over meat, livestock, grains, and, for some quirky reason, sugar cane, sugar beets, and honey (but not maple syrup!).
MOFGA’s comments on various issues regarding food safety, including the proposed legislation, are posted here:
The National Organic Coalition comments on the FDA food policy guidance’s, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition comments on S 510 and food safety legislation are posted here: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/foodsafety.html.
These two coalitions proposed changes to the definition of a facility that would help to resolve the definitional issues. However, both pieces of legislation would potentially stifle the growing specialty food producers sector that has been so closely linked to farming here in New England over the past twenty years.
For more information, please feel free to contact me directly:
Russell Libby, firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-568-4142
Food Safety Policy Update: September 23, 2009
Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director
Food safety issues continue to move forward on multiple policy fronts at the Federal level. Between Congress, FDA, and USDA, three major proposals are being considered.
Legislation. The House of Representatives passed HR 2749 at the end of July. The question now is whether the Senate will act this Fall. Senate Bill 510 will be the initial focus of discussion, and it has bipartisan support.
Just as with the House Bill, the major issue from MOFGA’s perspective is a definitional one. What kind of businesses, including farmers, need to be covered by Federal food safety oversight? Is that decided based on the type of business (retail sales vs. wholesale), or on the basis of the size of business? How are farms to be treated? Does USDA oversee food safety on farms and does FDA oversee processors? And if a farm does on-farm processing, which agency is responsible.
Through a long series of discussions, including four trips to Washington so far this year, this has become the critical hinge for discussions. MOFGA and a variety of organic and sustainable agriculture groups have been trying to develop clear definitions, and we’ve had continued discussions with a range of consumer groups to see where there might be agreement.
It’s clear that the conversation starts from a point where everyone, whether farmer or processor, has a shared food safety responsibility. But the solutions need to be appropriate to the size and type of activity. In discussions earlier this month, it is clear that this message is being heard. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said this month that “In the agricultural sector, FDA will carefully focus its standard setting on produce commodities and issues that are important for improving food safety, and we will be very sensitive to the wide diversity of practices, which we know vary by commodity, geography and scale of operation.” We want to make sure that both FDA and Congress pay attention to these issues.
Leafy Green Marketing Agreements. Since the major outbreak of e. coli in spinach in California three years ago, the large national shippers have worked to upgrade their systems for food safety oversight. Over time that evolved into the California Leafy Greens Agreement, where large processors and shippers developed standards for farm production and processing, and the California Department of Agriculture enforces the standards through inspections. There is a push to turn this into a national model. USDA is currently holding hearings around the country on whether, and if so, how, to implement this idea. MOFGA, as part of the National Organic Coalition, is opposing this proposal as a precedent that lets each industry work its way out of Federal oversight by setting up its own set of standards and then preventing farmers who don’t meet them from entering major national markets. Some of the National Organic Coalition comments at the first California hearing are posted at: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/testimony.html
FDA Produce Standards. In late July, FDA issued draft produce standards for melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens. Comments on these proposals are due in late October. MOFGA will be submitting comments urging FDA to meet the same standards that Commissioner Hamburg laid out in her September talk. The standards, as now written, focus a lot on keeping extensive records of production and processing systems. We will be encouraging them to focus their efforts on those businesses that ship into commingled markets where the identity of the farm and its product is often mixed with that of many other farms. We hope to have draft comments for MOFGA farmers to review and submit in early October.
If you are interested in discussing any of these issues in more detail, please feel free to contact me at the MOFGA office or via e-mail, <email@example.com>.
Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2749 - The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, by a large margin. The bill was substantially amended to reflect concerns from the Agriculture Committee, but many issues raised by organic and sustainable farmers went unaddressed, particularly: making sure standards are compatible with the National Organic Program; addressing conservation practices; and scale-appropriate standards and fees. On the floor, Congressman John Dingell, principal sponsor, agreed to address the organic standards and conservation practices in the final bill. Action now moves to the Senate, where S 510 - The Food Safety Modernization Act, will be the prime legislation. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released draft guidance documents for leafy greens, melons, and tomatoes on Thursday. These are open for comment for 90 days. MOFGA will organize a meeting to discuss them prior to submitting our comments. There is a major emphasis on sanitizing washes in the leafy green standards -- essentially recommending dilute bleach to wash greens before selling them. This is an example of standards that need to be scale-appropriate. See amendments to H.R. 2749. See FDA guidelines. S 510 is not available for viewing online at the moment.
Food Safety Update - Action Alert
Congress may vote on HR 2749, The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, as soon as Friday, July 24th.
Congress To Vote Soon
MOFGA has worked closely with both Energy and Commerce Committee staff and the Maine delegation to make the bill better by:
- Focusing on national and international companies that process and distribute most food
- Making sure farms aren’t inadvertently treated as processors, subject to a $500 annual facility fee, or regulated beyond their impact on the food system
- Making sure that any produce standards that FDA develops consider the importance of diversity, natural resources, and existing organic standards
Part of MOFGA's work with the National Organic Coalition and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been to develop amendments that will:
Please call your Representative’s office and encourage him/her to support HR 2749 ONLY if the ideas included in the proposed Farr/Kaptur amendment are included in the final bill.
- Clarify that farmers are not facilities
- Make fees fair—low or no fees for small businesses, larger fees for larger businesses
- Consider whole farm system when establishing food safety standards
Representative Mike Michaud: 202-225-6306
Representative Chellie Pingree: 202-225-6116 (Note: Rep Pingree has already signed on to the proposed amendment—please thank her for that, as well.)
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 2749 - The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 today. MOFGA supports the Farr-Kaptur amendments, which will provide additional support for family farmers. Elements of those amendments are likely to be included in the final version before the vote. Under a proposed committee amendment, most farmers who process and sell directly to consumers would be excluded from the definition of a facility that is required to register with the Food and Drug Administration and pay an annual fee. MOFGA continues to work with farm groups across the country to get clarity about how farms and specialty food processors will be regulated. Votes on the bill are not yet scheduled.
Food Safety Legislation: A Chance to Focus on What’s Important
Russell Libby, Executive Director
April 30, 2009
Congress is currently considering a number of pieces of food safety legislation. In the House, HR 759, The Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009, is likely to be the key starting point.
After a long stretch where FDA simply has not had the resources to keep up with changes in an increasingly complex and global food system, these bills are trying to establish new standards. However, the bills run the risk of making it harder for farmers and small food processors to supply their customers, thus making the food system as a whole more concentrated. In particular, the growing “local food” and “identity-preserved” markets could face major entry barriers or regulatory costs.
A few overarching principles:
Food safety is a shared responsibility. Whether the food system is a simple one-- harvest lettuce in the garden, take it to the sink, wash it, and prepare a salad—or a complex one—buy truckloads of spinach from several different farms, wash, clean and pack it, and ship it to multiple market outlets—several responsibilities are shared. Farmers need to use the best possible growing systems for producing the food. Packers and processors need to be able to trace food from the farm to the next level of the food system, and are responsible for handling food safely and properly. Distributors and retailers need sufficient records to be able to track food back to supply points. Finally, the person who prepares the meal—whether it’s at a restaurant, an institution, or a home kitchen—needs to prepare the food well. Obviously, the more complex the system is, the more steps between farmer and table, the more important the role of FDA and USDA in the process.
- Enforce existing laws first. FDA is already charged with enforcement of a wide range of food safety laws. They need the financial resources to do the job properly.
- Focus on the core problems. Most of the food safety outbreaks that reach the level of public notice are associated with national, and sometimes international, distribution systems. This is where FDA, and USDA, should focus their efforts.
- Do no harm. This principle holds as true now as it has for over 2000 years. One of our critical concerns is that the rapid adaption of food safety protocols is going to make it harder, not easier, to build strong connections between farmers and the public.
It’s not all about the microbes. Sterility is not a solution. Although the most recent large food safety outbreaks have been focused on various forms of microbial contamination, we believe that it’s important to be looking at the impacts of the whole system. In HR 759, Section 104 (b) 2 includes chemical hazards as one of the items that should be monitored in fruits and vegetables, but it’s not clear whether that specifically includes pesticide residues or where they would be addressed. Off-farm impacts of pesticides and fertilizers aren’t addressed directly by food safety standards—but a food system that produces safe food has to consider these issues.
The role of organic and identity-preserved products:
Meeting the standards of the National Organic Program means that some of the critical elements of a food safety strategy are also addressed. Included in the rule, followed by the thousands of organic farmers across the country, and also included in various forms by other groups, are elements that could be the prototype of a farmer-based food safety strategy:
Positive elements of the bills before Congress:
- There is no use of raw manure on vegetable crops without an extended waiting period between manure application and harvest of the crop.
- Compost that contains livestock manures has to meet temperature, mixing and time requirements or else the product must be treated like unprocessed manure.
- There is no routine use of antibiotics within either livestock feed or livestock health programs. (Animals may be treated to ensure health, but neither the animals nor their products may then be sold as organic.)
- There is no use of synthetic pesticides. Their use is not generally considered in food safety protocols like USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices checklist.
- Organic farmers are required to maintain records that allow “one up, one down” traceability. They have to keep records of the sources of inputs, be able to track activities on their farm to the relevant fields/livestock, and then maintain records of sales that are detailed enough to allow full accountability.
Congress has indicated a willingness to work with all parts of the food system to find good solutions. There are elements of HR 759, and other bills, which simply make common sense:
Issues that still need to be clarified within LD 759 and related bills:
- Recall authority. FDA currently relies on the manufacturer to get food that has been traced to illnesses out of the system. FDA would now have authority to stop sales and require recalls. (Subtitle B, Section 114; Subtitle C, Section 121)
- Expanded research capacity. Which foods are causing problems? Why? FDA lacks some of the basic scientific capacity needed to determine the root of the problems they are responsible for regulating. (Subtitle B, Sections 111-113)
- Enforcement capacity. Implicit in the language of HR 759 (and HR 875) is the idea that the FDA should have sufficient staff and resources to actually enforce existing laws, be able to identify problems quickly, and trace them to their source. This is, to us, the root of the problem, and the solution.
1. Who’s covered? HR 759 regulates processors, but doesn’t define the term directly. Some aspects of the bill would extend oversight to activities at farms and restaurants. HR 875’s original language set up classes of processors, with frequency of inspection linked to the class. As Congress considers language, it’s critical that the focus be on the pieces of the food system that have the most potential impact. Suggestions:
A. Establish tiers, similar to HR 875, but focus FDA effort by size:
2. SBA Small Businesses
3. SBA Very Small Businesses
B. Direct sales from farmer to final consumer exempt from FDA oversight, final consumer to include individuals and restaurants.
C. Exempt products that move from farmer to final consumer with identity preserved all the way through the system.
D. Recognize equivalent state systems (e.g., state meat inspection; state oversight of low-risk foods like jams and jellies).
2. Traceability. HR 759 would require most shipments and sales of food to be tracked electronically (Sec. 107, TRACEABILITY) including food purchased by restaurants and farmer sales UNLESS it is a raw agricultural product in a commercial shipment with information that includes the grower, lot, harvesting and packing dates. Suggestions:
A. Existing language in FDA regulations allows either paper or electronic records. Continue that language while:
1. Encouraging development of model recordkeeping system
2. Allowing equivalency (for example, Maine’s blueberry industry uses bar code systems that allow tracking of each pallet back to individual fields)
3. Focusing on one-up, one-down systems—all businesses able to document inputs and products sold from the farm
B. The exemption (above language) should be modified to simply require:
1. The grower
2. Information sufficient to allow tracing back to the field/farm of origin.
C. Expand exemption to include any other products that move directly from the producer to the final buyer, so long as it includes the information included in B, along with other currently-required labeling information.
3. Fees. HR 759 has an elaborate fee system designed to cover all inspection and electronic data costs at FDA. A fee sufficient to cover those costs will discourage new entrants into the business. (The proposed $10,000 fee for all importers will also be a significant barrier for small businesses that import from single or limited sources, such as some coffee importers.)
A. We believe that there should be a separation of functions here. Enforcement of existing government laws is a government function, and shouldn’t be paid for by those being regulated. Inspection and monitoring on a continuous basis to provide access to a market (as in USDA inspection) is a cost of doing business, and should be done on a fee basis.
B. Consideration of the scale of business being regulated is critical.
4. HACCP, or other certifications: See below for a discussion of the many different options for food safety oversight and compliance certification.
A. Language in HR 759 (and other bills) needs to recognize that many different food safety certification systems are already in place. This will be particularly important if the language extends to cover imports—many products from other countries will also be part of similar domestic programs.
B. MOFGA strongly opposes many elements of the Leafy Greens Agreement, embodied in HR 1332.
Food Safety Certification Protocols—a partial listing.
This is a necessarily incomplete listing of food safety protocols that are currently operating at various levels in the U.S., and elsewhere.
- HACCP. Frequently used by processors. Required under FDA protocols for seafood and for juice products. Most meat processing plants, while under USDA jurisdiction, have HACCP plans or equivalent in place.
- Good Agricultural Practices. Increasingly desired by produce buyers. Current USDA GAP standards raise major compliance issues for diversified farms. See MOFGA’s comments at: http://www.mofga.org/Default.aspx?tabid=735. GAP compliance has been required for farmers who supply ingredients to suppliers of the National School Lunch program as a result of a letter from the Director of School Lunch programs at USDA in August, 2007.
- Good Agricultural Practices—Extension version. Rhode Island’s school lunch program encourages suppliers to be compliant with the original Good Agricultural Practices guidelines developed by Extension in the early 1990’s. http://www.uri.edu/ce/ceec/food/grow.html
- GlobalGap (formerly EurepGAP)—generally required by major retailers in the European Union. To assure access to export markets, some US producers (e.g., sweet potato farmers) have received GlobalGap certification. See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FS145 for an overview.
- Organic certification. Many of the issues of concern in HR 759 and other legislation are specifically addressed by organic certification standards, including: waiting periods for use of manure; compost and input regulations and monitoring; field histories for each unit of production; tracing inputs and outputs. MOFGA has developed an add-on protocol, based on HACCP principles, that could be used by farmers who need additional oversight to meet needs of particular markets.
- Other programs.
A quick Google search showed 170,000 links—this is only a representation of some of the possibilities already on the ground.
Update on Food Safety Legislation: March 30, 2009
Russell Libby, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association
A lot of you care about access to good, local, organic food!! That message has already reached Congress, as several of us found during meetings with members of Congress and their staffs last Thursday and Friday.
That’s the good news. We still have a long way to go to make sure that any legislation actually improves our food system. So much is dependent on all of us continuing to be clear about what’s broken, and what needs to be fixed.
The Emerging Policy Framework. Various ideas for food safety legislation are being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Some elements likely to be in a committee bill include:
Issues of Concern. It’s clear that there are gaps in our food safety system. But MOFGA, and other groups that are working on these issues from the perspective of farmers interested in issues of scale, organic production, and sustainability, want to be sure several major problems with the various bills are addressed directly.
- Clear Lines of Responsibility. Food safety responsibility is scattered between FDA, USDA, and several other agencies. Overall responsibility is likely to move toward FDA, whether in one agency or in a separate Food Safety Administration, except for USDA’s meat and poultry inspection programs.
- Recall Authority. Right now, FDA (and USDA) only can request that processors recall suspect food. This will be changed so FDA and USDA have the right to recall foods that have been traced to illnesses.
- Traceability. If there is a problem, how do you identify the source? There is a continuing push for further tracking of ingredients used by processors.
Appropriate Solutions. We need to recognize that there are many different ways to produce safe food. The food safety issues associated with a farmer who sells at farmers’ markets are not the same as those of a thousand acre vegetable producer who wholesales all their product. Legislation needs to recognize that. Similarly, the tracking system used for a CSA will be different from a nationwide poultry processor.
Scale and Cost Issues. Whatever proposals are considered need to recognize that large farms -- confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), large wholesale producers -- and large processors have different potential impacts on the food system from small family farms and food businesses. The solutions need to work for farmers, fishermen, and local food processors of all sizes.
Include All Food Safety Issues. So far the discussions, and proposed legislation, focus almost exclusively on potential microbial contamination. There’s no consideration of the potential health impact of pesticides or GMOs. There’s no consideration of the off-farm environmental and health impacts of CAFOs or a corn monoculture. These are food safety and public health issues, too—and they can’t be treated in isolation.
What You Can Do: Many groups are sending out action alerts on various bills. Most have focused on HR 875, but other bills are going to be the major focus of the Energy and Commerce Committee when it works on these bills in the coming weeks. It’s important to keep telling Congress what is working from your perspective—the connection between consumers and farmers, in so many different ways—and where you want them to focus their efforts—on the national and multinational food processors and on the businesses that supply them.
Some Key House Bills, and MOFGA’s concerns:
Besides the Maine delegation, you can send comments to: Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2125 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
- HR 759, Rep. John Dingell, FDA Globalization Act of 2009, which thoroughly updates (and expands) FDA’s authority on a wide range of food and drug issues, and mandates electronic trace-back systems. MOFGA concerns: one-size-fits-all trace-back system; fee system to pay for modernization that could create major problems for small processors and others affected by the bill.
- HR 814, Rep. Diana DeGette, TRACE Act, which would require systems to trace all livestock and meat foods at all stages, including livestock, meat, poultry, eggs and egg products. MOFGA concerns: results in mandatory National Animal Identification System; focus on one-size-fits-all trace-back system.
- HR 875, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Food Safety Modernization Act, which would establish a new Food Safety Administration, separate from FDA. Farms would be required to maintain more detailed records and use “good practice standards”. MOFGA concerns: Definitions may be drafted to be overly inclusive. Latest drafts (not yet published) address some of the issues. Rep. DeLauro’s staff has been very responsive in several meetings with farm groups.
- HR 1332, Rep. Jim Costa, Safe FEAST Act of 2009, moves towards a HACCP-based food safety system, and includes any fruits and vegetables deemed to be potential problems by FDA. There are no scale exemptions, and the system is fee-based. MOFGA concerns: Fee levels; mandatory, not optional, HACCP-system; explicit ties between food safety and homeland security planning; extension of FDA authority to fruits and vegetables with no scale considerations (same problem as existing cider/juice regulations)
Other action alerts and news articles from the past week:
Organic Consumers Campaign: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17355.cfm
Cornucopia Institute: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17355.cfm
Overview by Leslie Land, http://leslieland.com/blog/food-safety-alert/
Bangor Daily News report on the issue: “Farmers leery of food bills in DC”
An Integrated Approach to Food Safety
Russell Libby, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
March 19, 2009
The repeated failures of our food system to provide safe food to all are pushing Legislative and policy changes on food safety. President Obama focused on this issue in his March 14th radio address. Multiple bills are already before Congress. Every week there are news stories detailing past and present problems in situations as diverse as spinach, peanuts, melanin in dairy products, almonds and antibiotic resistance in pork.
Small farmers are already skeptical of USDA’s direction on many of these issues, particularly because the National Animal ID System is being imposed without addressing any of the many equity and ethical considerations that are being raised by farmers across the country. USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices protocol focuses on microbial issues, ignores pesticide use, and discourages diversified farms. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration has shown a marked inability to find solutions that work for small farmers without expensive and product-changing technology (e.g., juice regulations that drove out most apple cider producers; proposed leafy green protocols that would require high cost testing of each batch of greens.)
Small farmers, fishermen, and food processors are often left out of the policy discussions that try to fix these large-scale national problems. These working principles are intended to provide a framework for the ongoing policy debate from the perspective of an organization that represents organic farmers and gardeners, food processors, food retailers, and thousands of families who are committed to buying local, organic food.
A. Working principles:
1. Focus first on the big problems. From our perspective, many of the food safety incidents of the past decade are closely related to the increased concentration in our food production system. When a problem in one storage facility or processing plant or one field can impact eaters in dozens of states simultaneously, the bulk of the regulatory and enforcement focus should also be directed to these same large facilities. In livestock, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) and confinement hog production, widespread antibiotic use in livestock and the increased concentration of livestock processing are all contributing to a series of ecological and health issues. The discussions also tend to ignore anything but biological food safety issues; FDA’s food monitoring data continue to show pesticide residues from DDT and organophosphates at low levels, but it is generally ignored as an enforcement priority. (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/pes06rep.html#appa-06)
2. Fairness and Flexibility. Enacting laws or regulations that work for large farms but can’t be met by small farmers is fundamentally wrong. For example, the California Leafy Greens protocol suggests that each batch of greens be subjected to a laboratory test. That may be appropriate for fields of 100 acres harvested over a few days, but doesn’t work for a salad green bed of 2000 square feet. MOFGA and other small farm groups have been working on a food safety approach that is: a) focused on each farm identifying and monitoring potential problems (similar to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles), b) appropriate for the market being supplied, and c) tied to existing farm plans. Mandating only one solution (e.g., USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices) limits possibilities for small farmers.
3. Enforce existing food safety laws first before considering reorganization. The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, along with other Federal agencies, already have a wide range of authority and power. Right now neither agency has the capacity (in terms of staffing and coverage) to cover current statutory mandates. If year after year FDA is unable to meet existing inspection protocols, they are unlikely to be able to assume additional responsibilities. Whether food safety continues to be a program within the Food and Drug Administration or it becomes a separate Food Safety Administration is largely a management issue that doesn’t address capacity issues.
B. How organic farms already address some key food safety and food quality issues:
Within the National Organic Program law and regulations are a series of requirements that address some key food safety concerns:
1. There is no use of raw manure on vegetable crops without an extended waiting period between manure application and harvest of the crop.
2. Compost that contains livestock manures has to meet temperature, mixing and time requirements or else the product is treated like unprocessed manure.
3. There is no routine use of antibiotics within either livestock feed or livestock health programs. (Animals may be treated to ensure health, but neither the animals nor their products may then be sold as organic.)
4. There is no use of synthetic pesticides. Their use is not generally considered in food safety protocols like USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices checklist.
5. Organic farmers are required to maintain records that allow “one up, one down” traceability. They have to keep records of the sources of inputs, be able to track activities on their farm to the relevant fields/livestock, and then maintain records of sales that are detailed enough to allow full accountability.
C. Concerns about Current Legislative Proposals in Congress
The various pieces of Federal legislation that have been introduced to change and revise food safety systems are meeting a large amount of skepticism and initial opposition. We think that solutions based on the principles above have more of a chance to build broad political support than proposals that don’t allow various pathways to the same result—a safe and healthy food system.
One major concern for MOFGA is that current bills before Congress seem to ignore the perspective of farmers who are primarily supplying markets where the buyer and the farmer know one another. Among these bills are:
S425, Sen. Sherrod Brown, which focuses on traceability (including livestock identification);
HR 759, Rep. John Dingell, FDA Globalization Act of 2009, which thoroughly updates (and expands) FDA’s authority on a wide range of food and drug issues, and mandates electronic trace-back systems;
HR 814, Rep. Diana DeGette, TRACE Act, which would require systems to trace all foods at all stages, including livestock, meat, poultry, eggs and egg products;
HR 875, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Food Safety Modernization Act, which would establish a new Food Safety Administration, separate from FDA. Farms would be required to maintain more detailed records and use “good practice standards”.
All of these bills are in the discussion stage and will progress along with the rest of the Congressional agenda. MOFGA believes that the only way to ensure food safety is to work within the principles outlined above.
D. A few related thoughts:
1. MOFGA’s perspective on why we need to be cautious about the GAP approach to food safety:
2. MOFGA Board statement in opposition to the NAIS:
3. A summary of MOFGA’s HACCP-based approach to small farm food safety will be available late in March, 2009.
For more information:
Russell Libby, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-568-4142