Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Farmers Don't Want To Comply With New Food Safety Rules

In 2011, Listeria-tainted cantaloupes grown on family owned-and-operated
Jensen farms in Colorado sickened 147 and killed at least 33.
It was the largest foodborne outbreak death toll in the US in 100 years.
 It is thought to have been caused by dirty equipment.
Melinda drew my attention to this story about farmers who are fighting the new food safety rules saying they will cost them too much:

Strawberries, Raspberries and Bagged Salads, Michael Tabor and Nick Maravell, on WriteToFarm.com, 15 August 2013

Something in this story didn't add up. A farmer, Bessemer, laid off 30 employees because he said he could not afford the cost of meeting the new safety regulations. That's 30 x $50,000 (median per capita income in Ohio plus benefits) = $1.50 million. That might not have been his whole employ because Bessemer still has his farm and is growing soybeans on it now. (93% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified. Has Bessemer kept his dedication, implied by Tabor, to growing non-GMO?) Tabor said "the requirements would cost [Bessemer] at least $100,000 to comply with the regulations and $30,000 a year for inspections."

That does not sound like a guy selling a few baskets of tomatoes from the back of his truck. Small farms are exempt from the new regulations. This farm sounds like it's big enough to absorb the cost.

Searching further I found this article in the Akron Beacon Journal:

Bessemer Farms Calls It Quits, Says New Farm Rules Too Cumbersome
"The FDA estimates the cost to implement the new rules will be about $4,700 a year for very small farms, $13,000 for small farms and $30,500 for large farms. Size is determined by how much business the farm does annually.

Farms that sell less than $25,000 of produce each year are exempt from the law. There are other exemptions too. Farms that sell directly to the public and not through a third party are exempt. In total, the FDA estimates about 79% of all U.S. produce farms won’t have to comply.

The rules are expected to save 1.7 million Americans from food-borne illness each year — a cost savings of $1 billion, according to FDA figures."
So, Bessemer has a large farm, that sells to a third party (Acme), that, by his own admission, has shipped produce "all over," not just locally. This is not unlike the type of farm that has been implicated in outbreaks:

Local Food Does Not Mean Safe Food
"It was selling spinach wholesale from a small, organic farm that caused the 2006 spinach outbreak. Twenty-five acres of an organic spinach farm sold to a wholesaler, who sold to a manufacturer. The fecal contamination with E. coli O157:H7 was introduced at the spinach farm and amplified at manufacturer."
From the article at the top of the post:
"It is those antiseptic, theoretically bacteria-free plastic containers that will soon become the only way we will be able to shop for all of our produce. ... And that should be an issue of public outrage!"
That is the only way most people in the US shop for produce now. Most people do not eat food from farmers' markets. Most people either buy their food in grocery stores or have it prepared for them. Only a small elite have access to these special foods. Food safety regulations will also not be a death knell for small farms, many of which, according to the Akron article, are eager to comply because the market for fresh, local produce is growing.

Resistance to food safety regulations seems more like an issue of people protecting their privilege than an issue about public health. In fact, I'm having a hard time seeing the rationale for it being about public health at all, since (apart from the $1 billion cost savings from less illness) the new rules include things like making sure workers who handle food wash their hands and restroom facilities do not open onto food prep rooms. These are regulations farmers resist complying with?
I don't keep up enough with Bill Marler: What Do Cantaloupe And Baseball Have In Common?

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