Letters to the FDA: Additional Comments on the FSMA Produce Rule

DSCF0141This is our third and final installment of our blog series: Letters to the FDA.  Please see our previous blogs for information about the act as a whole and specific concerns regarding the use of manure and compost.

Dear FDA,

The following comments concern specific elements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that will negatively affect small farms. These elements include animal-crop integration, small farm exemptions, water testing, and record keeping.

1. Small Farm Exemptions and Definitions

  • Total revenue should be estimated based on only “covered produce” and not include any revenues from meat, dairy, grain, etc.
  • The full exemption to the produce rule should be raised from $25,000 to $75,000. Many small farmers direct market their produce, which increases sales and costs. Even a half-acre CSA farm could have close to $25,000 in sales, but barely be breaking even because of the high cost of organic production. Burdening these small systems with excess regulations could bankrupt many producers.

2. Animals on the Farm

  • The proposed nine-month delay between animal grazing and harvesting crops is much too long. Such a delay would discourage innovative livestock-crop integration and overburden sustainable producers. The post-grazing harvest delay should be shortened to three months, like the manure delay.
  • The FDA must support producers who are implementing conservation practices and supporting surrounding ecosystems. To avoid discouraging such practices, the FDA should plainly state that conservation practices will never be threatened or prohibited based on food safety alone.
  • Monitoring for wild animal entrance into crop fields is unrealistic, especially for larger producers. Food is grown outside, in the soil, under the open air, exposed to the surrounding ecosystem. This reality should be
  • The use of draft animals should also be protected from food safety intervention. Farmers who employ draft animals in the place of petroleum-powered machines are reducing their carbon footprint, reducing fossil-fuel dependence, improving on-farm air quality, and investing in sustainable technology. These producers should not be limited by unnecessary food safety regulations.

3. Water Testing Regulations

  • Requiring weekly surface water testing is a costly burden for small to mid-size producers. Surface water testing should only be required annually and when introducing a new water source. Groundwater and surface water testing should also be required at the establishment of a new operation.
  • The proposed “safe” levels of CFU (colony forming unit) for E. coli are too low. More research needs to be conducted to determine a reasonable threshold. The 0 CFU threshold for post-harvest wash water is especially unrealistic.
  • In the west, farmers could lose an entire crop if they were required to stop irrigating if a contaminant was present in their surface water. Instead of prohibiting all irrigation of above-threshold water, the FDA should allow farmers to continue irrigating until just before harvest. This way, farmers would not lose entire crops and much of the E. coli would break down in the elements before harvest.
  • Farmers utilizing irrigation water from shared ditches, reservoirs, etc. should not be persecuted if water contamination occurs off their farm.

4. Record keeping

  • The proposed FSMA compliance-related record keeping is an unfair amount of extra work for small and mid-size farms. This documentation will require significant labor, management, expense, and time.

As a young farmer, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and student, I am extremely concerned about the implications of the Food Safety Modernization Act. I hope you take my concerns, and those of countless other farmers across the nation, to heart. As small-scale farmers we are trying to feed Americans safe, sustainable, healthy produce, while protecting our environment for the next generation of farmers. Please support our social and environmental efforts and do not place unbearable burdens on our businesses and production systems. Thank you for taking the time to read these comments.


Keegan Athey
River City Farm

If you love farmers’ markets, CSAs, urban chickens, composting, organic farming practices, or eating safe, local food then act now to protect your local farmers! The FDA’s comment period on the FMSA ends November 15 so it is crucial to get educated and act quickly. Please refer to the links below for more information on the FSMA.

Thanks for reading!

To submit your comments to the FDA, visit this website: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=FDA-2011-N-0921 for electronic and mail-in submission options.

Helpful FSMA Links








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