Local News

Proposed legislation could affect local farmers

Posted April 13, 2010 6:08 p.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2010 5:05 p.m. EDT

— Proposed rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could have a significant negative impact on the state's local food economy, according to a nonprofit group that serves the interests of local farmers and consumers.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, currently awaiting debate in the U.S. Senate, is meant to help prevent food-related illnesses and outbreaks by would allowing the FDA to take quicker and more effective actions for companies that don't properly protect against food-poisoning risks.

About 76 million Americans get sick and nearly 5,000 die every year from food-related illnesses.

As the legislation reads now, it would require farmers and facilities to pay a $500 registration fee as well as fees for re-inspection and food recalls.

Citing a report it released Tuesday, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association says costs for small-scale farmers and food suppliers to comply could exceed 150 hours in labor and as much as $20,000 in consulting and testing per year.

The group's executive director, Roland McReynolds, says small businesses are not the source of the vast majority of illnesses that the legislation targets.

"These and other costs for complying with one-size-fits-all food safety rules could force many small farms and food businesses to abandon value-added markets," McReynolds said.

It could also lead to significant job losses, he said.

The group wants Congress to write new, more flexible rules for small farms and businesses and fund educational programs and outreach to improve those small producers' safety practices.

"The federal government has an obligation to better understand the processes involved in local, health y food systems before attempting to regulate them," McReynolds said.

The Senate could take up the matter as early as next week.