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Saturday, October 22, 2016

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it would revise a landmark food safety law because of widespread complaints from farmers that some provisions were too burdensome.

The agency is proposing relaxing some oversight on irrigation water, allowing easier application of raw manure and exempting small farms from produce safety rules. It’s also eliminating a proposal that would have made it more difficult for brewers and distillers to give their spent grains to farmers for animal feed.

“Based on valuable input from farmers, consumers, the food industry and academic experts, the FDA is proposing to update these four proposed rules to ensure a more flexible and targeted means to ensure food safety,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The revisions are the latest change to a national food safety overhaul that was first signed into law in 2011.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was aimed at shoring up the country’s food system with preventative measures on farms. It came in response to growing concerns about food-borne illnesses after outbreaks tied to spinach, cantaloupes and eggs sickened thousands nationwide.

Some of the biggest critics of the law were organic farmers who thought the rules overly sanitized the farm environment. Growers complained that the rules would penalize them for having wildlife on their land and for using raw manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition welcomed the revisions and said Friday they would work closely with the FDA to fine-tune the law before it is finalized next year.

“We applaud FDA for listening to our concerns regarding the original proposed rules and for recognizing that a second draft was necessary,” said Sophia Kruszewski, a policy specialist for the coalition, a Washington D.C.-based alliance of grass-roots organizations advocating sustainable farming practices.

“These rules must not only ensure a safe food supply, but also that family farms can thrive and that consumers can access foods that are safe, healthy and sustainably produced, including fresh food from local producers,” Kruszewski said.

The group said the initial regulations contained several “highly problematic requirements that would have put many sustainable and organic farmers out of business, dampened the growth of local food systems and innovative supply chains, and undermined efforts to conserve critical natural resources.”

One of the biggest concerns was how it would burden small farms. The Food Safety Modernization Act requires an investment in new equipment and the introduction of new processes such as comprehensive record keeping.

The revised rule would exempt farms with annual produce sales of $25,000 or less. The previous requirement did not restrict sales to just produce, meaning more farms would fall under the oversight.

The FDA is also removing a requirement that farmers wait nine months between applying raw manure on fields and harvesting a crop _ a nod to growers who favor natural fertilizer.

The agency is proposing allowing higher levels of bacteria in irrigation water and reducing the number of times the water is tested.

In the final revision, the FDA is proposing that brewers and distillers be exempt from the food safety laws when providing farms with spent grains used to make alcohol.

The agency will accept public comments on the four revisions for the next 75 days.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson