There's a week left for food producers and consumers to affect the largest food safety overhaul in more than 70 years.
The public comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act will close on Friday, Nov. 15.
David Dietz, whose family owns Dietz Produce in Hellam Township, is encouraging local farmers to share their opinions before it's too late.
"This law could be the end of Dietz Produce," he said.
A major bipartisan piece of legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 adds 2,000 pages worth of regulations to food and farming industries. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, and will be implemented on June 30, 2015. It is designed to enhance the safety of the country's food supply and gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more authority than it has ever had.
What will happen: According to the law, the FDA will beef up its inspections, work to prevent and recall contaminated food and have greater oversight of imported food.
The FDA will also have the authority to order mandatory recalls of food.
"It's not horrible. There are a lot of good things in the law, but the devil is in the details," said Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Snyder is meeting Thursday with FDA officials to discuss parts of the law that will have the greatest impact on farmers.
For example, the law requires vegetable farmers to wait nine months from the time they spread manure until they take their produce to market.
"When you factor in winter, that can take their fields out of production for a full year," Snyder said.
The best-case scenario is a farmer spreading
manure in early fall and waiting nine months to harvest in mid-summer.
"So they'll either be out a season or come up short," he said.
To save production, Snyder said most farmers would ultimately use chemical fertilizers, which is more punitive to organic growers like Dietz.
"It's not a good thing when the government starts telling you how to grow. It's not very democratic," Dietz said.
Most organic farmers wait 120 days from fertilizing with manure until harvest, Snyder said.
"The nine-month rule is pretty ridiculous and flies in the face of what's been happening on farms forever," he said.
Bookkeeping: The law will also burden farmers with extra bookkeeping, Snyder and Dietz agreed.
Regulations could require certain farmers to test their water weekly, forcing growers to foot the bill for laboratory testing.
Most small farms test water once or twice a year, Snyder said.
Not only will farmers have to test more, they'll have to prove they tested. The law is designed so farmers will have to be ready to prove they are in full compliance with all regulations.
"There's no way I will have time to be buried in paperwork," Dietz said.
FDA inspectors could show up at farms and ask to see a running log of tests, fertilization records and more, Snyder said.
The agency oversees everything in the country's food supply except meat, poultry and processed eggs, which are governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"When some inspector shows up looking for violations, they've already lost the farmer in terms of a cooperative spirit," Snyder said.
Cooperating: But local farmer Julie Flinchbaugh said she's going to cooperate for the sake of the consumers. As a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and co-owner of Flinchbaugh's Orchard & Farm Market in Hellam Township, she said she wants her consumers to know what they're eating is safe.
The Food Safety Modernization Act largely developed in 2006 after contaminated spinach was responsible for illness and death related to an E.coli outbreak.
Nearly 48 million people report foodborne illness each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I know it will cost time and money, but if it makes the customers feel safer then it's worth it," Flinchbaugh said.
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