RI farmers seek to ease rules in Food Safety Modernization Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) — The Food Safety Modernization Act was put in place with the goal of making sure the fruits and vegetables you eat are safe. But some Rhode Island farmers have traveled to Washington, D.C. to voice their concerns about the measure, saying it could cause more harm than good.

Rhode Island Farm Bureau President Henry B. Wright III said he has problems with the fresh product section of the act.

“It’s just not well thought out,” he said.

Signed by President Barack Obama back in 2011, the measure is the first major regulation of its kind in 70 years. It covers every aspect of the food supply chain, from farm to fork.

“What prompted Congress to pass that law was a series of major outbreaks in previous years,” explained Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) commissioner for food and veterinarian medicine.

The act includes stricter hand-washing policies, limitations in the pick-your-own operations and extensive water testing.

“The rules and regulations involve a tremendous amount of paperwork,” Wright added. “Most of our farmers are too small to have a staff working on all the requirements for record keeping. The profit margin could be consumed just by the added paperwork.”

That’s why Wright is meeting with members of Congress and the FDA.

“We are trying to take the corners off this regulation and make it easier to be acceptable,” he said.

The FDA said it worked with growers and farmers for six years to develop the rules, and it has no intention to stop now.

“We continue to listen, we continue to learn, and we continue working with the growing community to make sure we can deliver safe fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Ostroff said.

A heavy lift, according to Wright.

“There’s so much pent up anger over this they are going to have to do something real major,” Wright said.

The biggest farms must comply with the new regulations by January 2018. Smaller farms have up to two years to adapt, according to the FDA, so the agency has time to modify some rules if necessary.