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FSMA Rules Threaten Small Organic Farmers: Comment Deadline Friday

By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Advisor            

            This Friday, November 22 brings to a close your opportunity to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  Making your voice heard in an informed, constructive manner is essential for protecting the rights of farmers and consumers to build the organic and local food systems, which are our surest path to a sustainable future.

            The organic community has always supported fair, practical and efficient regulations to improve food safety, but virtually nothing in FDA’s current proposal satisfies those conditions.  As drafted, it would cripple small- and medium-sized farming operations with burdensome and expensive compliance requirements http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/food-safety-comments-top-10/   which cannot be justified by what we currently know about food safety.  Provisions in the proposal would largely eliminate the use of natural fertilizers including compost, require farmers using irrigation to test their water weekly and severely restrict the burgeoning local foods movement.

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Looking on the Bright Side

There was no Farm Bill at this time a year ago, as Congressional dysfunction led to the legislation’s expiration.  Congress rallied in December 2012 and extended the Farm Bill for nine months, minus nearly $500 million in crucial funding for organic, local and beginning farmers.  The recent budget impasse in Washington shutdown all USDA farm credit and conservation compliance activities and forced the Department to cancel the National Organic Standards Board meeting scheduled for Louisville, KY.

With this history of achievement, it takes a healthy streak of optimism to get fired up about this week’s Congressional negotiations to renew the Farm Bill and pass a 2014 budget.  OFRF and its national network of partner organizations  will stay in the thick of those deliberations, though I personally look forward to a more relaxed atmosphere inspecting organic farms across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

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Farm Bill Breakthrough in Washington

Despite the ongoing budget stalemate, Congress took a huge step towards renewing the Farm Bill over the weekend when the House of Representatives agreed to negotiations with the Senate on a  compromise five year package.  Specifically, the House and Senate appointed their respective members to a Conference Committee which will seek to iron out the differences between the Farm Bills each side has already approved.

There is no minimizing the differences between the House and Senate proposals, especially with regard to funding levels and policy provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The good news is that, if the SNAP issues can be resolved, there is a viable pathway to agreement on a comprehensive package including desperately needed support for organic, sustainable, local and beginning farmers.  There are clear signs that a majority in both the House and Senate are prepared for significant reforms to the crop insurance and commodity programs at the same time that support for cost-effective organic and alternative initiatives is growing.

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