PITTSBURGH (AP) — Organic farmer Don Kretschmann walked
around his picturesque but ancient barn and stepped up to a rustic barrel root
It’s a simple machine, he said, consisting of long, wooden
planks that form a cylinder, which he uses to clean freshly harvested produce on
his Beaver County farm. Soil-covered carrots and potatoes go in one end, the
cylinder rotates, water sprays in and clean vegetables emerge.
“But who knows if I’ll be allowed to keep using it?” said
Kretschmann, who has farmed about 15 acres since he and his wife, Becky, bought
the land in 1978. “Or this barn, it’s 150 years old. I don’t know if it will
pass the new (regulations).”
On Nov. 15, the Food and Drug Administration concluded a
10-month public comment period on wide-ranging regulations proposed under the
Food Safety and Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2011 because of
deadly food contaminations.
Small farmers and some consumers contend the regulations are
an example of government overreach that could cripple the increasingly popular
locally-grown food movement. The rules for storage facilities could force
farmers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to replace barns with sterile
warehouses, they said.
Farmers said another requirement, to document all wild
animals that come in contact with farms, is impractical and that water
management proposals and restrictions on composting are burdensome.
“Who would want to deal with all this?” said Kretschmann,
who sells produce to 1,385 customers within 30 miles of his Rochester farm. “I
tell you, it’s scary.”
Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner of food, said
he is aware of farmers’ concerns. He met recently with a group representing
Pennsylvania’s small farmers and said the FDA wants only to protect consumers,
not make life more difficult for farmers.
“We don’t have the mandate, the intent or desire to turn the
produce sector on its head,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of genuine issues
(farmers) have raised, (and) some of their comments reflect the need for us to
clarify what we intended.”
He said the regulations will call for “common sense” steps
that many farmers utilize, and the law will allow government inspectors to
prevent illnesses rather than respond to them. Most small farmers who sell
produce locally could be exempt from the regulations, he said.
Farming is Pennsylvania’s largest industry; 63,000 farms
yearly contribute $67 billion to the state’s economy, officials said.
Brian Snyder, executive director for the Pennsylvania
Association for Sustainable Agriculture, said the government should try to make
small farmers’ lives easier.
“This law could turn the tide and put a cap on the local
food movement,” Snyder said. “We’ll stop seeing new farmers coming in, and those
who are struggling will drop out. Some are struggling now and don’t make much
money, but they keep doing it because they believe this is the future.”
Consumers increasingly want to know where their food is
grown, how and by whom, small-farming advocates said.
Federal statistics support the assertion: The U.S.
Department of Agriculture reported 8,144 farmers markets this year, a
3.6-percent increase from 2012. Since 2000, the number of farmers markets has
nearly tripled from 2,863.
Snyder said “well-meaning legislators” drafted the food
safety law, intending to target corporate farms that can afford to make sweeping
“They had good intentions, but beneath the surface, there
are consequences” to small farms with thin profit margins, he said. “We will
find out after this comment period closes just how serious the FDA is about
considering stakeholder input.”
Kretschmann said his wooden root washer symbolizes farmers’
It works perfectly, he said. Yet the law might ban it in
favor of a stainless steel machine that he could more easily sterilize.
“The alternative would be to buy an expensive washer that
would need another building just to house it,” he said. That would cost tens of
thousands of dollars.
Taylor acknowledged the regulations have “complexities” but
urged patience. The government will not adopt policies aimed at harming small
farmers, he said.
“It’s a strong policy of this administration to support
local food initiatives,” he said.
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