Tag Archives: food safety

Food Movement May Be Torpedoed by FDA

As many who follow food and farming news may have heard, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is formulating rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that could adversely affect small farmers. “Adversely affect” may be an understatement. Read: Destroy small farmers and stop the food movement in its tracks, as far as local, organic and sustainable is concerned.

Here are my thoughts.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15. See:  http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/

We all know that our food system needs help. And more oversight. The FSMA is the right step in that direction, but it has some serious flaws that need fixing in order for it to do the job it is supposed to do in protecting public health.

Foremost, FSMA requires regulations that giant agribusinesses must conform to and that’s a plus. Unfortunately, the protections for small farmers that Congress intended have been stripped away by the language of the regulations.

To be blunt, it appears that FDA decided to reinvent the wheel  in agricultural matters and instead of having a round wheel, it created a square one to fit its own purposes and ideas of what agriculture should do.

But as anyone who knows how agriculture works – dependent on seasons, erratic markets, odd federal policies, and a plethora of existing agencies, rules and regulations – a new square wheel won’t help it keep rolling along.

As proposed, the FMSA will regulate small farmers out of business, deter new farmers, beginning farmers, transitioning farmers and especially impact minority, underserved, distressed farmers and women who are only now starting profitable businesses in agriculture through the food movement.

First are the safety rules that FSMA would impose. They make sense when you have a giant industrial farm, but make no sense if it’s small farm where everything is done by hand, customers know the supplier and all facets of the farm are inspected daily by a sole proprietor and/or his family (who also eat the food they grow, drink the water that irrigates it and tend to the poultry and livestock that share their farm).

The rules  — such as extensive and expensive groundwater testing from ponds and wells – may be necessary when you’re a giant conglomerate,  don’t know where the water is coming from and are trying to locate a disease event affecting 2 million people in a handful of states. But if you’re growing for 200 families in your local area, you know what the water is doing, where it came from, and the consumers know it, too. It’s local water that local people share.

Yet, FDA estimates the typical cost for one water test  is $87.30 and, depending on the type of crop, it may have to be tested daily. What small farmer can afford $87 a day for water testing?

By the FDA’s own estimates, some of the most basic rules like water monitoring will put many small farmers out of business; it estimates complying with basic rules for small farmers would cost $12,972 per year.  Now, if you’re only making $40,000 or $50,000 a year, that’s a huge impact.

Moreover, it only exempts farmers from its regulations who make less than $25,000 per year over three years. That has its own problems. For example, where’s the incentive for a new or beginning farmers to take out loans and invest in land and equipment to be repaid over time, if they know that in a couple of years, they’ll hit a $25,000 income ceiling – beyond which they’ll be effectively penalized in profits, if not run out of business by regulatory costs?

That rule in itself dooms local and organic growers to not grow beyond a set point, effectively putting the brakes on organic and small ecofarm operations, and as a disincentive for young, new and beginning farmers from seeing farming as a career choice. It’s a barrier to underserved, distressed and minority farmers looking to make a living and provide healthy nutritious food for themselves, their families and their communities.

Doesn’t the FDA care about food deserts, urban ag and the burgeoning inner city and rural grassroots cooperatives that are changing the face of agriculture? Fresh food fights obesity, the worst effects of poverty and provides self sufficiency and community empowerment.

That $25,000 exemption should be raised to at least $100,000 so that young families can see local food production as a career, and help build communities.

Even for farms with sales up to $500,000 per year, NSAC estimates, they would have to spend between 4 percent and 6 percent of gross income to comply – this for farms that generally only have incomes of 10 percent of sales.

Again, these are not the giant food producers that are causing the food safety problems nationally, but generally are family farms that have been in operation for generations. They often include aunts, uncles, cousins, across generational lines. Two younger cousins, for example, could actually be doing the labor or be managing a farm and sharing the profits as a LLC for elderly family members and their extended families.

These are the endangered types of farms that are disappearing rapidly, being bought up by corporations and investment firms or turned from farmland into residential development and luxury estates or country clubs as elder farmers retire and their children turn to other employment. FSMA would only accelerate the trend of precious arable farmland being converted into real estate, further endangering this nation’s food sovereignty. Rather, government should be promoting the conservation of farmland and encouraging local food producers so we are not dependent on foreign sources for our food.

The act does offer some concessions for farms under $500,000 but above the $25,000 exemption, under the congressional Tester-Hagan Amendment. That includes farms that have “more than half of their sales going directly to consumers, or to a restaurant or retail food establishment in the same state or within 275 miles of the operation.”

But, even there, it has a huge loophole whereby FDA can yank that exemption with no reason and with no way for the farm to either defend itself or get reinstated.

Furthermore, under FSMA, CSAs, farmers markets and roadside stands are left vulnerable.

Here, state agricultural agencies are finally getting around to promoting small farmers having direct sales, and providing them limited legal liability to promote it. And community supported agriculture is starting to include not only young and women farmers but churches, schools, civic clubs and like. Such stands, farmers markets and CSAs are held accountable by being local, direct to consumer without middlemen. They are transparent and have immediate accountability. They should be protected.

In addition, a lot of the regulations that are FDA required under FSMA are already in place: such as General Agricultural Practices and food safety practices required under the USDA certified organic program.

If farms are already training and complying with state regulations and existing USDA programs, why add more and different requirements? Stores and grocery chains themselves are instituting their own food handling requirements and regulations, cooperating with state agricultural departments and the USDA. Why not accept USDA rules and adopt them, and ensure they are enforced, rather than creating new square wheels?

As stated, for a more complete appraisal, see the NSAC website.

As it is, if you care about food safety and the local food movement (Buy Local, Buy Organic!), then you’ll at the very least want to tell FDA to exempt small farmers who make under $100,000 per year, reconfigure restrictions on family farms making under $500,000 per year, and redraft the rules to comply with existing USDA programs to avoid duplication.

FMSA is a good start; and it’s important that the giant conglomerates that are responsible for the lion’s share of the nation’s food safety issues are held accountable for safe practices. The regs just need tinkering.

Without modification of FMSA, the food movement could be stopped in its tracks from the ground up by essentially outlawing — or effectively running out of business — small local farmers selling locally.

As an example of a good recommendation (and one I support) is this offered by the Mississippi Food Policy Council:
Recommendations: 1) creating stronger procedural elements of proof before taking away an exemption, warning letters, and a reinstatement process; 2) raising the exemption for producers and processors from $25,000 to $100,000; and 3) defining, as the Act requires, CSAs, farmers markets, and roadside stands as retail food establishments to allow for exemption, and expanding these to include local, direct sale buying clubs.

Share this with your friends and like minded folk.

Use the hashtag: #fixFMSA

Here’s a step by step on how to comment on the rules: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.


Is Your Organic Apple Sprayed With Antibiotics?

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

When people think of organics, they think — rightly so! — that the food they buy is free from synthetic chemicals of any kind. However, as noted in a recent article in ACRES USA, organic apples and pears may be treated with antibiotics.

It all started in 1995, when the National Organics Standards Board voted by a split vote to allow antibiotics for treatment of fire blight, a bacterial disease. Specifically, NOSB allowed the use of the antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline; then, in 2008, added oxytetracycline hydrochloride. (See “Antibiotics in Fruit Production: A Challenge to Organic Integrity,” ACRES USA, Vol. 43, No. 4, April 2013 issue.)

Allowing antibiotics in fruit caused an uproar when it started and recently came to a head with the rule being reviewed in April. It was seen as a way of “watering down” organic standards to accommodate industrial agriculture. The use of antibiotics in the production of meat is strictly prohibited by organic standards, while prolific with the general food industry.

The potential and real dangers of antibiotics in the production of food are well known. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of U.S. antibiotic use is on livestock, not humans, leading to increasingly virulent strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic treatment. It’s used in livestock to increase weight (and profits), not to prevent disease, but has the added “benefit” of allowing the animals to be kept in overcrowded and poor sanitary conditions. Except, of course, for certified organic meat production.

This inconsistency in regard to fruit has long been a troubling point for those concerned about the integrity of organic standards.

One might ask, well, if it’s needed by the fruit growers, why prohibit it? The answer is simple: It’s not needed if a farmer grows apples resistant to blight. As it is, because most consumers are familiar with popular varieties, such as Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, that’s what they buy. But these varieties are susceptible to fire blight and are routinely sprayed with the chemicals as a preventive measure.

That doesn’t mean that orchard growers must grow those varieties. Other popular varieties such as Red Delicious and Northern Spy are not susceptible to fire blight.

Due to public opposition, the rule allowing antibiotics in organic apples and pears will expire Oct. 21, 2014.

Until then, consumers should pay attention to the varieties they buy.

Quick bites:

Consumer beware: Regardless of the USDA Certified Organic label, if you buy Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, they are likely to have been sprayed with antibiotics. Likewise with pear varieties D’Anjou, Bartlett, Aurora and Dutchess.

Rather, buy fire blight resistant varieties such as, with apples: Melrose, Winesap, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Liberty, McIntosh, and Northern Spy. With pears: Honeysweet, Kieffer, LaConte, Old Home; and Asian pears: Chojuro Kosui, Olympic, and Shinko.

Here is a chart of resistant and susceptible varieties from the quarterly Beyond Pesticides:


Fire Blight Affects Local Trees, Shrubs

For homeowners and backyard growers, fire blight can be a problem, as well, particularly this time of year. In May, especially in wet weather, it can appear on the tips of branches giving a scorched appearance (hence, it’s name “fire” blight). According to Dr. Wayne Porter of Mississippi State University Extension Service, even use of antibiotic treatment won’t work once it’s begun; the best control is cutting back the diseased limbs, and only in dry weather. Do not fertilize the tree, as the blight will likely infect the new growth. (See “Controlling Fire Blight” – http://gardeninginms.blogspot.com/2011/05/controlling-fire-blight.html)

Planting Blight Resistant Apples, Pears

For planting in Mississippi, apples are traditionally more amenable to the northern part of the state, but some varieties will grow elsewhere, using recommended root stocks (M7A or MM106), according to the extension service. Some recommended varieties: Royal or Imperial; Smoothe, a Royal Delicious type; Ozark Gold; Red Chief, Mercier Variety; Arkansas Black. Coast: Golden Dorset, Anna, Ein Shiemer.

Pears are common statewide. Kieffer is the most well known variety, but it’s not resistant to fire blight. Better is Orient and Moonglow (and Baldwyn for the Coast; Ayers for North Mississippi).

For more on planting apples and pears suitable for Mississippi climate, see the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication “Fruit and Nut Recommendations for Mississippi”:


For more on antibiotics, see:

Is Your Meat Safe? Antibiotic Debate Overview – Frontline, PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/safe/overview.html

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

GMO Labeling Movement Continues

Nov. 21

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The Big Ag and Big Food cartel may be chortling now that it “won” Nov. 6 by defeating California’s Proposition 37 that would have mandated labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), but that victory may be short-lived.

Already, Connecticut, Vermont and Washington state are preparing 2013 initiatives, 23 states are working on legislation to require labeling, and Canada is considering legislation for a national ban on GMOs. Sixty-one countries already have mandatory labeling.

A massive disinformation campaign that snowed even otherwise reputable voices killed Prop 37. A consortium of food giants funneled more than $46 million into defeating it; Monsanto alone spent $8.1 million. By comparison, the anti-GMO side only had $9.2 million to spend, despite more than 3,000 food safety, environmental, and consumer organizations endorsing them.

The endorsers included most of the major health, faith, labor, environmental and consumer groups in California, including the California Nurses Association, California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, United Farm Workers, American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Sierra Club, Whole Foods Market, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund, Mercola Health Resources, Public Citizen, MoveOn and Food Democracy Now! (For a full list, visit carighttoknow.org/endorsements.)

So, how did it lose? The massive funding by Big Ag and Big Food raised so many questions about the proposed labeling law that those who were undecided or feared the scary, untrue claims that it would increase grocery prices voted “no.” Even so, 47 percent of California voters voted yes — some 3.5 million families!

That sends a powerful message: Despite fears about the specific legislation of Prop 37, a majority of Californians probably would vote for a mandatory GMO labeling law if the questions raised were honestly addressed. (National polls show up to 90 percent of Americans want GMO labeling, see: rodale.com/gmo-labeling)

Moreover, because the publicity raised consciousness about the issue, now, millions of Californians and those who followed the Prop 37 debate around the nation are looking at the food products they buy to determine if they contain GMOs simply because Prop 37 was on the ballot.

Bottom line? If food manufacturers want to stay in business, they will start labeling and switching over due to self-preservation. Regardless of specific labeling requirements, or how long state or national governments drag their feet, consumers will win this food labeling battle by voting with their wallets!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Occupy Your Lawn with an Organic Sustainable ‘Yarden’

Jan. 6, 2012
Occupy your lawn with an organic, sustainable ‘yarden’

Now’s a good time to map your organic, sustainable “yarden,” while the cold winds blow.
What do I mean by “yarden?” By that, I mean a place in your yard for a garden that you may not have considered before.
Not too long ago, a neighbor told me: “I’d love to grow some greens, but I just don’t have anyplace to put a garden.”
It just so happened that I drive by this person’s house every day, so I pointed out that he had some plots set aside for flowers next to his house, next to his garage and even out front next to the road.
I suggested he transition one of those into a garden.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
That’s a yard + garden = yarden.
It’s easy to create 4-foot-by-8-foot “Jim’s plot” garden, as regular readers know. But it’s even easier to transition a flower garden into a food yarden.
Usually, flower gardens have a tremendous amount of organic matter already in them from years of the flowers’ leaves composting themselves or successive years of added mulches, making them perfect for food production.
It’s sustainable because from here on out, you can continue to build up the soil with compost and alternating crops to replace minerals lost in vegetable production, and organic because you will no longer be using chemicals.
I will give a caveat: If you have sprayed poisons such as herbicides and insecticides on it, you will have to wait longer to transition the space into a food plot to ensure all harmful chemicals have broken down.
This is quite common on a larger scale in transitioning from “conventional” farming, and it’s officially three years’ wait before a plot can be certified organic.
If such a transition is needed, consider the plot a “wild area.” Let varieties of plants do double duty by enriching the soil and attracting pollinators, such as planting clover or buckwheat to entice bees and butterflies.
That way, you will be beautifying the neighborhood, feeding the soil with nitrogen, and helping other gardens and wildlife while you wait to plant food.
Otherwise, if you haven’t been using harsh chemicals, you’re ready to go! Just figure out what veggies you want to grow.
Now is the perfect time to consider spring planting, as the new seed catalogs start arriving.
With the rising interest in homesteading and food security (ensuring there is food on the table), it’s smart as well as fun to provide or supplement one’s own food.
The Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi actually has a program called “O Gardens! Occupy Your Yard” to guide people how to produce one square meter of food for a family.
See:www.ggsim.org/volunteer /projects/o-gardens-occupy-your-lawn.

Cold weather tip: Half fill a few empty plastic two-liter cola or gallon milk bottles and toss them between the rows of your plants during freezing weather. Especially if painted black, they will absorb the sun’s heat during the day, and
release it at night, raising the bed’s temperature.

Food Safety Sellout: While Americans were celebrating the holidays the FDA quietly dealt food safety a blow by declining to clamp down on antibiotics for farm animals.
The need is there. As Tom Philpott reported in Mother Jones magazine, last spring researchers tested beef, chicken, pork and turkey from supermarkets in five cities. They found staph aureus, a food-poisoning bacteria that can cause serious diseases, in 47 percent of the samples. Half were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
The FDA on Wednesday took a more timid step of limiting some livestock uses of cephalosporins, like Keflex, which consumer advocates called “a first step.” The goal should be to stop routine and indiscriminate bulk feeding of antibiotics to
livestock to reduce the production of disease resistant strains that endanger humans.
The New York Times’ Mark Bittman blames funding cuts by Congress.
Read more by Bittman: http://nyti.ms/v29WxU
And Philpott: http://bit.ly/suc3Us

Mark your calendar:
•I’ll be speaking on Community Supported Agriculture at the 21st annual Urban Forest Council Conference Feb. 7 and 8 at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. The conference is titled Green Communities – Good Health.
Keynote speaker is Dr. Kathleen Wolf of the College of Environment, University of Washington. Details: http://www.msurbanforest.com.
•I’ll also be speaking on Organic Backyard Market Gardening Feb. 25 at the third annual Sustainable Living Conference by Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi. The conference is titled: Saving Dollars, Making Sense, to be held at Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Raymond. Details: http://www.ggsim.org or (662) 694-0124.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.