With Western North Carolina suddenly feeling like the Arctic, sometimes it may be hard to remember that spring will be here in no time and once again it will be time for local farmers to plant their crops. United States Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) recently made an attempt to make it easier for these smaller farms to make a living.
Back in November, Hagan, along with Montana Senator John Tester sent a letter to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that detailed the amendment that she and Tester were able to include in the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act.
According to Hagan, this amendment will help protect small farmers from excessive federal regulations.
The act was signed into law on January 4, 2011, by President Barack Obama with the aim of shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination of farm grown foods to preventing it. As a result, the FDA was given the ability to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed, but this created a burden for small farmers.
The law came about as a result of the passage of United States Senate Bill 510 back in 2010. As word of the bill spread to Macon County, concerned residents approached the county commissioners to urge them to stand up to the Food Safety Modernization Act. In response, they penned a resolution that stated, “while perhaps appropriate for industrialized food production, will create possible 'barriers against entry' that will rapidly destroy such local and natural production.”
Sharing the sentiment of early opposition, Hagan and Tester proposed amendments that would leave small, local farmers to adhere to regulations stemming from state and local health and sanitation laws as they did before the enactment of the 2011 law.
In the letter that was sent to the FDA, Hagan and Tester wrote, “It is essential to create separate, modified requirements for small farms and larger farms and processors: one size does not fit all. We urge you to rectify the rules to ensure that small farms, farmers' markets, and local cooperatives are able to thrive while protecting food safety from the biggest threats.”
According to Hagan, agriculture is the largest industry in N.C., producing about $77 billion in “economic activity” while also providing employment for almost one-fifth of the state's workforce.
The letter set out to define terms of the law that had been left inadequately defined by the FDA and urged the agency to reconsider the following issues:
The senators urged the FDA to remove key requirements for agricultural water testing, stating that “these requirements are unworkable and unaffordable for small farms.”
Debate on the Farm Bill was unfolding yesterday morning on C-SPAN while local farmer Butch Deal watched. Deal farms in Macon County and grows crops in a lot of different areas throughout the county. He makes it a habit of keeping an eye out for anything that may impact him and his family's way of life.
“We haven't been impacted positively or negatively by any recent legislation,” he said as he referred to the Food Safety Modernization Act. “We'll wait and see what happens. Once a bill is passed, the agency interprets the wording and develops the rules for it. It could be a while before we see any impact.”