The food safety enabling legislation in the Senate currently still occupies every small farmer’s mind as we charge into our growing season. Although regionally we have tried through our legislators to have our voices heard,there is no real reason for optimism at this time. I thought I would post an editorial response to an article that was recently published in the Valley News and picked up by the Concord Monitor. It dealt with the possible impacts the imposing food safety regulations will have on small farmers in the northeast. The article was quite lengthy and very accurate in a great many ways. They picked up a quote from me that went “It’s going to be a whole bunch of money, a whole bunch of oversight and a whole bunch of regulatory paperwork…not the way I really want to farm.” The quote was accurate, but taken out of context it makes me sound a bit like your standard anti-government malcontent. So I wrote the following response to underscore what I thought were the important points readers should focus on. Here it is.
Susan Boutwell’s article on food safety was timely and accurate but I feel that a few important points should be underscored. I read my quotes in the paper and although they were accurate, I feel that they should be framed into the context to which they were given.
I personally feel that the federal government has not done a very good job of keeping food safe when given the authority to do so. One only has to look at the tainted meat recalls that came from the huge federally inspected slaughterhouses. Or the importation of melamine tainted baby food from China. All of the food safety scares (ex.-spinach, chicken ,raspberries) can be traced back to large vertically integrated agribusinesses and not small local farms in the New England area.I believe that historically the government is much more effective in regulating small operations (in this case small farms ) than larger entities. Large corporate farms have the resources to fund batteries of compliance officers and boatloads of lawyers and lobbyists to their cause, but none of the farmers I know in New Hampshire or Vermont have those resources .
There is not a farmer in the Upper Valley that I know of who is not committed to doing a better job of producing safer, healthy food. To that end our growers group from the Upper Valley (in conjunction with the Hanover Consumer Coop) proposed to Senators Shaheen and Gregg to have continuing documented education provided to the small farms through the University Extension System in regards to food safety, a concept that gets a lukewarm reception from most Senators. What farmers in the Upper Valley object to is the “one size fits all” mentality that would burden small farms disproportionately in terms of capital outlay, burdensome paperwork and annual expense. Senator Gregg issued a editorial response in the Nashua Telegraph to a similar food safety article written a few weeks back in that paper. In that editorial he assured readers that small farms would not be negatively effected by this food safety enabling legislation, which is pure bunk. When farmer Michael Smith of Gypsy Meadows Farm says it can put him out of business, he doesn’t say that because he is interested in getting a picture of his tractor or a sound bite in the Sunday section of the Valley News—he says it because the threat is real for small and start up operations..
What is just as important here as the livelihood of small farmers regionwide is the stranglehold this will have on the development of a sustainable local food network. Jake Guest of Killdeer Farm is absolutely correct in stating that this is every bit as much about grabbing and locking up marketshare by those that can afford to do so under the guise of food safety. It is true that those of us that have farmstands or healthy CSA memberships can still come out the other side of a stringent food safety policy and survive. But it will likely chokehold a developing sustainable local food network regionwide, In the future “Locally Grown” may well be defined as locally grown in New Jersey or beyond.