Oh, no, not again! Nationally distributed bags of romaine lettuce are being recalled because of E. coli contamination. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is working feverishly to ramp up safety standards for growing and packing fresh produce.
Needless to say, food safety is a good thing. No one wants to get sick from toxic peanut butter or tainted tomatoes. But the new Food Safety Modernization Act, currently headed for the Senate floor, could seriously hurt small farmers and even put some out of business.
Why? Because the legislation does not distinguish between huge industrial farms (which have been responsible for the foodborne illness outbreaks) and small local farms (which haven’t). Under the new rules, small producers who grow for farmers markets and local restaurants would have to jump through the same regulatory hoops and pay the same exorbitant fees as giant agribusinesses - a huge burden for farmers whose livelihoods are already precarious.
If you shop at your local farmers market or farm stand, chances are you’ve met the people who grow your food, and you probably even know them by their first names. They supply food to their neighbors and eat it themselves, so they have every reason to adhere to good food safety practices. They don’t need the hassle and expense of federal oversight.
As a matter of fact, local farms are our backup when food poisoning outbreaks from giant food producers infiltrate every supermarket in the nation. A couple of summers ago, when tomato products were being yanked from grocery store shelves, the tomatoes at our local farm stand were still perfectly safe to eat (and delicious, by the way!).
So let’s support our local farmers - not regulate them out of existence.
What can you do as a consumer? Call your senator and urge him or her to exempt small farms from the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act. In addition, the FDA is accepting public comment on the bill through Monday, May 24. Go to www.regulations.gov and enter FDA-2010-N-0085-0001 under “Keyword or ID”. Next to where it says Preventive Controls for Fresh Produce, click on “Submit a comment.”