Long Awaited FSMA Produce Rule Released
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released the final rule detailing preventive standards for farms that grow, harvest, pack, or hold “covered" produce for human consumption. The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register in late November, and will go into effect 60 days later. After that, the compliance clock will start ticking for farms, including recordkeeping for exempt farms to demonstrate sales thresholds for exemptions and modified requirements.
While it will take time for OEFFA and other organizations to conduct a complete analysis, here are some important highlights:
More information is available on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog and in this fact sheet and flow chart from the FDA. Stay tuned for more details in OEFFA’s winter newsletter. There will also be opportunities to learn more about both the preventive controls and produce rules at OEFFA’s conference on February 13-14.
- The rule does not ask farmers to do anything that would un-do on-farm conservation and wildlife practices.
- The FDA will accept National Organic Program standards for the application of raw manure for all farmers.
- There are two sets of criteria for water quality that involve extensive testing protocols.
- The rules establish worker training requirements for health and hygiene.
- Audit results will be used as a compliance strategy, but details on what a “reliable audit” is are not yet clear.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Accepting Applications
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the availability of $350 million to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands across the nation. The funding is available through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which was created by the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private land owners to maintain land for farming and ranching. More information is available here.
Lake Erie Algal Bloom Largest on Record
According to scientists, the toxic green algae in western Lake Erie was the largest “algal bloom” on record. “The [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] estimates that the blooms are responsible for $64 million in losses per year due to the additional cost of drinking water treatment, the loss of recreational water usage, and a decline in waterfront real estate values,” reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
According to the report, the green scum covered about 300 square miles of the western Lake Erie basin, closing beaches and hurting the local tourism industry. While legislation passed earlier this year limits when manure can be applied in the basin, it does not restrict the amount of nutrients that can be applied, despite estimates that a significant percentage of the land is currently over fertilized.
Crop Insurance Cuts Part of Last Minute Budget Deal
Bi-partisan legislation that set the stage for the next federal budget passed in late October. That bill included a $3 billion reduction in insurers' rate of return as part of the budget deal President Obama signed into law. While some say this is a devastating blow for farmers, the reductions will primarily impact insurance companies that sell crop insurance to farmers. The federal government partially subsidizes those companies and insures some of their losses.
A new proposal will take things even further by cutting about $24 billion from the program. This second bill, the Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform (AFFIRM) Act, would cut crop insurance company returns and also cut the farmers’ insurance subsidies. Currently, about 60 percent of the cost of the crop insurance policy is paid by the federal government.
U.S. Senate Set to Prevent States from Labeling GE Foods
Senator Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is leading compromise discussions with Republican legislators on the Pompeo Bill that passed the U.S. House in July. The language that will affect how GE foods are or are not labeled will likely be included as a rider in the end of year budget bill, which would prevent the public from seeing the exact provisions or who votes for or against the bill.
Senators are proposing the use of QR codes, like those pictured here. This would require a shopper to have a smart phone app and scan each item for GE information or to be directed to a website where they can read about the product and its ingredients. The proposal—which shifts a technological and time burden onto consumers—would also “preempt” state labeling and overturn the will of voters, like those in Vermont who overwhelmingly passed a GE labeling bill scheduled to go into effect next summer. Supposedly this preemption would “sunset” if industry does not come up with a “voluntary alternative” by a prescribed period of time. Voluntary labeling is available to food companies today and not one has agreed to list GE ingredients on their products.
Natural Label Comment Period Opens
The FDA has released a request for comments on the use of the term “natural” in food product labels—including in those products that are genetically engineered or use GE ingredients. The FDA has received several petitions asking for clarification in the use of the term “natural,” as well as a request from a federal court.
This is our opportunity to prohibit GE foods from be labeled “natural.” Find more information here. We will provide guidance to help you comment in the coming months. Comments are due by February 10. If you would like to be involved in the analysis and comment, contact OEFFA today!
GE Salmon Approved
The FDA made history with its recent approval of the first GE animal to enter the market. The new “AquAdvantage” salmon has been genetically engineered to grow to market size faster than a non-engineered farmed salmon, in as little as half the time. There have been many concerns about the FDA’s ability to fully consider the social and environmental issues associated with a new fish species.
While the approval means that the FDA has found the product safe to eat, questions about environmental safety remain. One concern is that if the bigger GE fish were to escape, they could out-compete wild salmon for food and mates. Like other GE foods, this product will not be labeled as genetically engineered. Read more here.
Web Tool Available to Help New and Beginning Farmers
A new web tool is one of several resources the U.S. Department of Agriculture is employing with a goal of increasing the number of beginning farmers and ranchers by an additional 6.6 percent.
The Discovery Tool asks a series of questions and then connects new farmers to resources to help them get started.