The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 has been touted as the broadest change in food safety legislation since the creation of the FDA since the 1906 Food Safety Act. And certainly recent outbreaks in e coli here and in Europe have prompted food safety concerns. Yet the act does not address many issues of concern for American consumers who turn to organic produce to escape gm foods and to limit their exposures to trace pesticides. And still in question is its impact on the organic food business and organic farming.
With dramatic increases in sales over the last twenty years, with growning concerns and awareness on the part of the American food consumer, the organic consumer market and organic farming are now major growth areas within the US agricultural community. One of the key players in the organic industry over the last twenty years has been the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF).
Founded 20 years ago by members of the organic farming community on the west coast, the OFRF continues today with ongoing leadership from the organic farming community.
OFRF works primarily on information initiatives for organic farmers and on legislative initiatives to protect and promote organic farming in the US. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, OCRF’s office located in DC is staffed by Ariane Lotti, Senior Policy Analysit for the OFRF.
In a December 3rd radio interview with Santa Cruz KFCO radio station, Ms. Lotti commented on the new Food Safety Bill, a major initiative of the Obama administration.
In discussing the issues of the Food Safety Modernization Act and its impact on both small and large organic farms, Ms. Lotti notes the prevalence of both large and small organic operations nationwide in California and also observes that the Organic Farming Research Foundation believes very strongly that smaller farm operations shouldn’t be treated on the same level as large corporate entities.
One of the key points Ms. Lotti makes in the interview is that the 2011 Food Safety Bill really deals with microbial transfer (think e coli as in the recent outbreak in Germany) rather than many of the larger-scale safety issues that are avoided in organic practices.
Ms. Lotti’s interview occurred on December 3rd; the Food Safety “Modernization Act” was signed into law on January 4, 2011. A summary of key initiatives can be found here and the complete text can be found on the FDA website.
While the bill does address safety practices in mainstream farming, many concerns raised in the organic consumer community are not addressed: safety concerns with genetically modified foods where no long term safety studies regarding gm impact exist; trace exposure to pesticides and trace exposure to antibiotics, and issues related to use of growth hormones in the diary industry.
Overall, the bill appears to have done no major damage to the organic farming industry although it should be noted that the Obama administration may have done significant damage to the organic farming industry through the USDA approval of genetically modified seed–giving the large corporate interests (Monsanto and DuPont) behind gm seed the broadest administrative approval to use gm seed ever given by any government–all without long term safety testing for the American consumer public.
Of note is the provision in the bill in Section 419, under Food Produce safety:
a) PROPOSED RULEMAKING.—
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—
‘‘(A) RULEMAKING.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the Secretary, in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture (including with regard to the national organic program established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990), and in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall publish a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of those types of fruits and vegetables, including specific mixes or categories of fruits and vegetables, that are raw agricultural commodities for which the Secretary has determined that such standards minimize the risk of serious adverse health consequences or death.
‘‘(B) DETERMINATION BY SECRETARY.—With respect to small businesses and very small businesses (as such terms are defined in the regulation promulgated under subparagraph (A)) that produce and harvest those types of fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities that the Secretary has determined are low risk and do not present a risk of serious adverse health consequences or death, the Secretary may determine not to include production and harvesting of such fruits and vegetables in such rulemaking, or may modify the applicable requirements of regulations promulgated pursuant to this section.
The FDA is now writing the regs for food safety in the produce arena, and while the rules for organics, established in 2000 and enacted in 2003, will be recognized, how the FDA writes the regs will really determine the outcomes for organic farming.
Once again, the devil is in the details.