Local News

Federal officials tour local farms for safety study

Posted September 28, 2009 6:10 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2009 7:05 p.m. EDT

— Food safety is a growing concern that starts on the farm. On Monday, federal authorities visited several local farms as part of study into possible changes in safety regulations.

Some farmers said they worry that changes could put small farms out of business.

Farmer Alex Hitt took a break from his crops Monday to take members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a tour of his Alamance County farm.

Federal officials, such as Mike Taylor, were there to learn more about North Carolina farms and to “help ensure the safety of produce.” Officials said they are considering tougher regulations for ways the growers produce and handle food.

North Carolina farmers said they are already struggling with a slumping economy and higher productions costs. Now, lifelong farmers, like John Council, said they worry the price of meeting new federal requirements could shut down their farms.

“If they pass all kinds of regulations on us, we're going to lose everything we got,” Council said.

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said he is also concerned about costs if new regulations go too far.

“I think we've got to keep our eye on this. The small farms and medium size farms of North Carolina are so important to this state's economy,” he said.

Federal officials said they spent Monday listening to growers and touring small farms to see what cleaning and safety standards are already in place.

“ What we've learned is that small farmers are already doing a lot of things to ensure food safety and we want to build on that, not duplicate that, and so any rules we establish will be grounded in their reality,” Taylor said.

Some local growers said they're already working to grow and sell the safest possible product. They said they are grateful federal regulators are taking this time to study before making any changes.

FDA representatives said the study is in the early stages and any changes to growing regulations could still be at least two years away.