Jan 26– They’re Here,New Farmer Mandates from the FDA

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.