Everyone in the food supply chain has a responsibility for food safety.
Foodborne illness could be caused by wildlife in a farm field, poor sanitation at a processing plant or a contaminated cutting board on your kitchen counter. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says 1 in 6 Americans contract a foodborne illness each year.
While consumers play an important role in food safety, the FDA has proposed new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act that would regulate produce before it reaches store shelves. The rules include requirements for farmers, processors, importers and others.
These rules will offer new safeguards, and they also will come at a cost for both farmers and consumers.
Earlier this year, Preble County farmer Lane Osswald, an Ohio Farm Bureau state trustee, gave comments at an FDA hearing on how these rules could impact Ohio. Here are a few of the key points he made:
Ohio agriculture is diverse
Ohio is exceptional in both its production volume and diversity. Nationally, Ohio ranks second for fruit and vegetable processing, fifth for number of farmers markets and in the top 10 for production of cucumbers, strawberries, apples, peaches and both processed and fresh tomatoes.
Farmers need options
Flexibility for different growing regions, practices and operations should be a continued focus. For example, Ohio is home to a large concentration of Amish and Mennonite farmers who operate without electricity or traditional machinery. Ohio Farm Bureau stresses the importance that this rule not disadvantage any producer simply because of operation style.
Benefits must outweigh costs
Of utmost importance is the need to consider the economic burdens new regulation places on all growers. We emphasize the need to balance additional burdens with actual positive food safety impacts.
What’s your take?
As a consumer, please give us your thoughts about produce safety, via this online survey. Here are the questions we’d like you to consider.
- How confident are you that the produce you buy from the store is safe?
- How confident are you that the produce you buy directly from a farmer is safe?
- When it comes to produce safety, what are your top concerns? (List as many as you’d like)
- Overall, do you feel that the government should be doing more to regulate produce safety?
- The costs of these regulations for farmers could range from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per year, depending on the size of the farm. The projected total cost of compliance each year is estimated to be $459 million for American farms and $170 million for foreign firms. The FDA expects it would prevent 1.75 million foodborne illnesses, saving more than $1 billion. These costs will eventually translate to somewhat higher prices for consumers. Is that acceptable?
- In order to ensure the regulations do not place economic hardship on farmers, the FDA has proposed an exemption for farmers who have less than $25,000 per year in gross total food sales, including foods not covered by this regulation. However, some people contend everyone should have to comply with the same set of regulations. What do you think?
- One of the goals of the FDA rules is to address the fact that food is transported much more than it used to be. Each time food is handled or processed, measures need to be taken to ensure food safety. At the same time, many consumers are buying food directly from farmers either on the farm or at a farmers market. Because these customers are directly connected to the source of their produce, the FDA has proposed exempting direct-to-consumers sales from most of the food safety requirements, when total annual food sales are less than $500,000. Should farmers who sell direct to consumers be exempt from these regulations?
- Other comments?
About Ohio Farm Bureau’s policy process
Ohio Farm Bureau relies on a grassroots policy process to advocate on issues affecting agriculture and rural Ohio. The organization is democratically governed by nearly 60,000 Ohio farmers in all 88 counties who gather input from their communities as they make policy decisions. You can get involved through the organization’s Community Council program, which is open to all Farm Bureau members. Councils work on local issues and recommend projects and policies to their county Farm Bureau. Learn more.