A Guest Post by Michael Tabor, Maryland based farmer and activist.
Note from Tanya: Michael Tabor is a great friend and one of my mentors in the farming world. He runs a mixed vegetable farm and is always engaged in making the world a better place. This piece responds to proposed regulations that could have far reaching impacts on all, sustainable and organic farms nationwide. Mike will be on a panel about this issue at the upcoming Maryland Food and Farmers Association Meeting.
For those of us in the sustainable farm community, we are at the crossroads and the clock is ticking. There are these new Food Safety draft regulations released by the FDA on January 4, 2013 as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011. The regs cover everything concerning how we farm: domestic and wild animals, water, on-farm processing, soil amendments, equipment, tools and buildings. A mandated response is due by May 16.
If small farmers ignore that deadline assuming we are exempt, it will be a huge mistake. Small farmers need to speak up now to make sure these rules are workable for farms on our scale.
To understand the regs you need to go to the homepage of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act and spend some time on it. In a nutshell, everything’s aimed at prevention of some of the consequences of industrialized agriculture. Small farmers need to read the regulations and weigh in to ensure that we can keep running complex mixed vegetable operations without an undue burden of paperwork for each of our crops. Sustainable agriculture groups are reading through the materials and will come forward with some recommendations for comments. Small farmers and the consumers who care about us should pay attention and weigh in these rules. There will be more written about this in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about the rule from PASA here or dig straight into the proposed regulations here.
Interestingly, on January 5, when The Washington Post featured the new FDA proposed regs on its front page, there was another story on page 6 with important lessons about agriculture. The story was about a India’s Punjab region. The Punjab was the region where the “green revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s happened. It was there that US Agriculture, determined to “feed the world,” introduced the latest seeds, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers so that hunger, disease and poverty would end in India. Instead, reports and studies are showing links between that industrialized ag model and an upsurge both in cancer rates and farmer suicides. Now, farmers are dependent on the chemicals and pesticides and the cancer rates continue to rise. In response, there are now movements calling for more sustainable ag and organic models and tougher laws to protect the population. There is a clear lesson here.
Once, America’s health, ag and safety rates were the model and envy of the world. Now, our longevity rates have slipped closer to a third world level. Our seeds, meat and health stats are called into question and often rejected by EU countries.
Yes, we should be aware and react to the FSMA regs. We also need to bring into the debate the industrial model itself and make that part of our special contribution and insight into this discussion. If not, we can expect the voice of industrial agriculture to prevail!