Over 270 organizations, food businesses and farms requested an extension of the comment period for two major proposed food safety rules. The groups seek more time to assess the effects of the 1,200 pages of rules on family farms and small food businesses.
The new regulations are an effort to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in 2011. Unless extended, the public comment period closes May 16, 2013.
In a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the organizations cite the sheer volume and complexity of the proposed rules and the timing of the comment period during spring planting among the reasons to lengthen the comment period until September 13, 2013.
"Hundreds of thousands of family farmers and family-scale food producers will be subject to extensive new regulations," said Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. "FDA took two years to develop the proposed rules, and our members need more than 120 days in order to understand all of the implications and submit substantive comments."
The letter also notes that many farmers, including those of Amish faith, do not have easy access through the Internet to FDA documents or information on the proposals.
"Many of our members, in rural areas across the country, rely on the good old-fashioned snail mail," explained Mark A. Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. "After finishing our analysis we have to mail information about the proposed rules to our members, and they, in turn, must mail their comments to the FDA."
Kastel said that waiting until the last minute to announce an extension, as is common for regulatory agencies, would impose unnecessary burdens on individuals and the nonprofits that represent them. He added, "The fact that the current public period coincides with the busiest season of the year, spring planting, for many farmers around the country is an additional burden."
The proposed rules set standards for on-farm activities in growing and harvesting produce, as well as establishing new Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for food manufacturers, including on-farm processing of foods.
"Imposing rules that needlessly burden the family farms and sustainable producers who are providing healthy food options is against the interests of American consumers," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of Organic Consumers Association, a national grassroots organization of 850,000 consumers and organic farmers. "Family farms do not pose the same threat to consumers as large food production facilities with national distribution."
In the letter, the organizations point out that farms in different parts of the country face different challenges due to topography, geology and climate.
"One of the fundamental problems with regulating farms at the federal level is the wide range of farms across the country," said Western Organization of Resource Councils member and farmer Carol LeResche. "The growing seasons, the types of crops, and even the water sources are different in different regions." LeResche runs Prariana Farm, a small consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) operation near Clearmont, Wyo.
"What's reasonable for a farmer in Maine may be impossible for me," LeResche said. "We need more time to make sure the rules take that level of diversity into consideration."
"The organizations and farms who signed the letter represent the many different types of people and businesses who will be impacted," McGeary concluded. "We hope the FDA will act to make sure these important stakeholders have a full and fair opportunity to engage in the rulemaking process."
The full text of the letter is available at http://farmandranchfreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Ltr-Hamburg-comment-period-exension.pdf