Newly Enacted Food Safety Bill Gets Thumbs Up from Small Farms

Obama approves of biggest change to our food system, January 4, 2011.

2011 begins with some of the biggest changes in food politics we’ve ever seen. Last month, we spoke with New York City-based non-profit Wellness in the Schools about the upgraded Child Nutrition Act — a 6 cent increase (the first in 30 years) isn’t much, they say, but it’ll work to bring better awareness to school nutrition, as will the funding for farm-to-school programs. And just last week, President Obama signed the long-awaited Food Safety Modernization Act that had us watching C-SPAN like a high-stakes game of ping pong, jockeying the fate of our food security system from the House to the Senate well into a lame-duck session full of soon-to-be-outnumbered Democrats.

Believe it or not, the update, though sweeping, gives the Food and Drug Administration rights most might have assumed it already had. Back when the Act was originally drafted more than 70 years ago as the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, our food system was very different — no mega-farms, no GMOs, no reason to give the FDA power to issue mandatory recalls without tip-offs from individual food producers. Along with this newfound power and more regular on-farm visits, the government will be requesting food producers to keep safety procedural records should the FDA want to take a peek in times of emergency or a recall.

Proponents of small and mid-sized farms like the ones our city’s Greenmarket system supports, which are rarely the culprits of foodborne illness (and never on a large scale, obviously), were concerned that the new bill would be too financially burdensome — with a one-size-fits-all system with the same registration fee and expensive upgrades — but we hear word from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition that all is good. That’s because Congress has included an amendment that lessens fees for farms making less than $500,000 annually and which sell directly to their consumers at local farmers markets where producer still remains accountable to buyer, in a can’t-avoid face-to-face sorta deal — meaning many of those you likely buy from at Union Square or 97th Street on a weekly basis. Win-win? We think so.

Check the NSAC site for the full breakdown on the new law and its small-farm friendly amendments.

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