Farmers concerned about new FDA food-safety laws

6:27 PM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Maine (NECN) -- Dozens of Maine farmers took time away from the summer harvest on Monday to share concerns about sweeping changes to the nation's food-safety laws.

The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of overhauling laws that regulate how food is grown, harvested, packaged and stored.

The changes were mandated by Congress in 2010 after a series of high-profile food contamination incidents.

"My life was suddenly and irrevocably changed when I almost died after eating a spinach salad," said food-safety advocate Lauren Bush recalling her bout with E. Coli poisoning.

The FDA has since developed 1200 pages worth of proposed regulations

They're now in the process of seeking feedback from New England farmers.

"This listening session is part of the process of hearing directly from the people who are affected to help us get the rules right," said Mike Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner.

The farmers' primary concern is that regulations shouldn't be one size fits all.

They say regulations that make sense for massive commercial operations in the Midwest, may not make sense for small-scale family farms in New England.

Jeff Timberlake, whose family owns Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, says his farm may now be required to sanitize their picking baskets with a chlorine solution every morning.

"It makes it so the bag is uncomfortable and it doesn't work," laments Timberlake. "And it's never been recorded that anyone has gotten sick from Maine picked apples!"

"The FDA estimates the cost of compliance for a farm with a minimum of 250K in sales would be around 13K annually. That figure jumps to 30K for farms with more than 500K in sales.
Farmers say that additional expense, plus the hours of paperwork, may be enough to put some struggling farms out of business.

First District Congresswoman and farmer Chellie Pingree told regulators that she worried about the chilling impact the regulations could have on Maine's thriving local food movement.

"Tourism may be Maine's largest industry, but they come here to eat fish and produce from trendy restaurants-- most of whom source their food locally," said Pingree.

The FDA must now try and find a delicate balance that protects both the American family and its family farms.


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