WEST GREENWICH, RI — Implementation of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is imminent, and the Rhode Island Farm Bureau (RIFB) is working to mitigate its impact on local farmers.
FSMA was signed into law by President Obama in 2011, partly in response to outbreaks from contaminated produce. Although FSMA has been law for six years, the regulations are still being written. State-level trainings are just beginning, and those trainings have many farmers concerned.
Some of the requirements presented in trainings include repeated testing of irrigation water at the farmer’s expense, prohibition of eating — including taste-testing — in pick-your-own fields, and the recommendation that U-Pick operators send home customers who show symptoms of illness.
FSMA includes exemptions based on products and income to protect small and very small farmers from excessively-burdensome regulations. In the Northeast, however, the number of diversified growers means that few farmers will be exempted by product.
The income exemptions will vary over the next four years. In the first years, farmers grossing under $500,000 will be eligible for exemptions and/or modified requirements. By year four, the income exemption will be reduced to $25,000.
Many farmers anticipate that they may be exempt under federal law but will be required to comply by their customers. Many buyers such as supermarkets and restaurants already require Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification, even though the program is voluntary in Rhode Island.
In response to farmers’ concerns, RIFB President Henry B. Wright, III has been in regular contact with state and federal legislators and officials, including meeting with all four of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegates and their staff in Washington, D.C. this February.
At the local level, RIFB has been in dialogue with Governor Gina Raimondo and has testified before the Senate Committee of Environment and Agriculture in favor of a bill placing administration of FSMA and all other production-related food safety programs under the Division of Agriculture rather than the Department of Health.
Farm Bureau members have also met with members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation urging a repeal of FSMA, positing the Act will have severe unintended consequences on the viability of local farms.