We suspected that something like this was in the works and it might happen,but we were hoping it wasn’t going to be this onerous. Thanks to media hype (think Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel, showing us the accumulation of one half-inch of snow on New York park benches every 20 minutes), the Federal Government through the FDA will expand its bureaucratic hand of influence now into the hand of agriculture. This will be done in an effort to insure that Americans will now be evermore protected from the dangers of fresh produce.
Seems as though there have been attributable deaths of Americans from the consumption of foods that contained food-borne pathogens. We can all remember the spinach scare of 2009. Subsequent illnesses were reported with imported raspberries. Chicken, tainted hamburger? Colorado melons with listeria? Lettuce mixes recalled? And remember a delightful fellow named Mr. Barnel who knowingly and intentionally had some of his really nasty peanuts ground up into peanut butter. so that a pile of folks got sick on peanut butter, some dying? Hard to think that he is somebody’s uncle.
These are facts, I have read them myself. I’m not here to make light of them. But I read another interesting fact that was released from some group with a name like the Municipal Policemen Association that showed us that more people were murdered last year by ball pein hammers (not the regular carpenter’s claw hammers, but a machinist or mechanic’s hammer) than died from pathogen-painted food. I don’t remember hearing that anybody who wants to own or use a ball pein hammer needs to undergo training, certification and monitoring by an arm of the federal government. I would think that if the level of risk from death by ball pein hammer and consuming fresh produce, which are just about the same (under 500 deaths per year), it might warrant oversight that would be similar and proportionate, right?
Well, I guess not. And I wonder why other activities that actually kill thousands more people go on as business as usual…say allowing people to smoke when we know that it kills or at the very least diminishes them? We could really impact the safety of Americans if we told them that it was a criminal and punishable offense to be caught smoking or distributing tobacco…..just like marijuana. If we really wanted to save lives we could regulate the amount of high fructose corn syrup that folks can consume ( I personally would miss my unlimited access to Mountain Dew) but we could impact the high rate of American obesity and obesity-related diseases by doing so.
OK, so I am a tad grumpy sounding. And I know I am getting to the Old Fart stage, because I have been caught saying that I don’t understand how Edgewater Farm became such a risk to the public welfare after all these years in farming. Why do we need regulatory oversight now? I would be presumptuous to say that no one never got sick from eating our produce in the 40 years we have been here. I know from personal experience that five buttered ears of fresh sweet corn can get through your system in kind of a hurry if you eat it alone on an empty stomach. But a capital outlay and now the feds? Did a bunch of people get sick on strawberries in town and I didn’t hear about it? Americans seem not to be willing to take any responsibility for anything in their lives (including making food choices), so we here have been slowly ramping up for the arrival of yet another set of compliance regulations set forth by the federal government. Rather than dump $25,000-$50,000 into a certifiable wash/packing facility, we have making capital improvements over the last two or three years so the financial sting wouldn’t be so bad if it did come to this. Early this winter we added a new barn ceiling and all new light fixtures even before the FDA mandates came out. A sad sidebar to this is that on small-scale startup farms this new mandate will handcuff their marketing strategies, limiting them to the CSA model only. They will probably have to buy a wash facility long before they buy their first tiller or tractor if they want to grow vegetables and sell to restaurants. The mandates are coupled with expensive water testing, paperwork generation and federal inspections. It’s just another small-business enterprise hurdle, with no real scientific basis to conclude that food is any more a threat to human life than a common ball pein hammer.
The University USDA Extension personnel are currently trying to digest and sort out for all of us what the 1200 page food safety mandate actually means, and what specifics that we cannot overlook in our 2-3 year march towards compliance. Small startup farms are cringing, and may just get out. We at Edgewater are hoping that it’s a do-able exercise, yet knowing all too well that these additional measures add cost to the production of food, and usually can’t be recovered. By making the smaller farmer adhere to what the huge vertically integrated grower-packer-shippers do gives the big outfits a competitive edge. The net effect could well be the squashing of the emergence of small local farms and and small regional foodwebs. At the worst it will have an effect on the face of small farms not unlike what the mandated use of commercial bulk tanks did to small New England Farms in the 1950’s. We thought we had heard the last of Earl Butz’s ( Secretary of Agriculture under President Nixon) cry to farmers— “Get big…or get out!” Evidently not.
There is a comment period. You can find out about it (ending May 16, I think..) at the FDA website, though I would pessimistically say that it’s a done deal. That is, in the long run, unfortunate for small scale farms as well as the good folks who would buy their produce from them. Time will tell. But I guess you can garner some degree of relief in the meantime knowing that although you are still at mortal risk from a ball pein hammer, you and your children will be protected from fresh fruits and vegetables.