What Does the Government Have Against Small Farmers?

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farmer hands holding a plantlet.Three years ago you won major concessions for small farmers. Now it’s all in danger. Action Alert!

When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was originally proposed in 2010, we and many other organizations were troubled. Small-farm and organic food advocates warned that the legislation would destroy their industry under a mountain of paperwork and other requirements.

Working with the natural health community, ANH-USA helped win the inclusion of an amendment from Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC), which exempted producers making less than $500,000 a year in sales who also sold most of their food locally. This wasn’t easy. Big farms and processed food companies and their allies at the USDA and FDA did not like it, because they feel threatened by competition from natural food producers.

Now, through the rulemaking process, the FDA is trying to change the law in such a way that the hard-won exceptions provided by the Tester-Hagan Amendment are endangered.

In January we reported that the FDA had proposed two troubling FSMA rules:

  • The first one concerned standards for the growing and harvesting of raw agricultural produce, and exempts foods that are sterilized by irradiation, even though “nuking” it harms the food’s nutritional value, can cause a wide range of health problems, and masks filthy conditions in slaughterhouses and food processing plants. Obviously, organic foods cannot be irradiated, so they will never be exempted.
  • The second amended the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) guidelines by creating hazards analysis requirements and risk-based protections with lots of detailed recordkeeping. Most farmers will likely need a team of lawyers to make sure they’re complying with the new rule properly.

Farmers who make less than $500,000 should be off the hook because of the Tester-Hagan Amendment, right? No! At the last minute, a provision was added to the FSMA allowing the FDA to revoke the exemption for small farms or facilities under specific conditions.

And now, new FDA rules interpret those conditions in a way that completely undermines the intent of the Tester-Hagan amendment. The FDA now gets to revoke the exemption if a foodborne illness outbreak might possibly be linked to the farm, even if there is no proof that the farm is the cause of the outbreak, and even though there may not be an immediate threat to public health!

The standard is now very low indeed: FDA can revoke the exemption for any reason if it will “protect the public health and prevent or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak based on conduct or conditions associated” with a farm. Talk about vague language! This rule is just the excuse the agency needs to run roughshod over the rights of the small farmer.

It gets even more unfair. If the FDA decides to revoke the exemption, the small farmer or facility has a mere sixty days to come into compliance after being notified of a problem. This will put the farm out of business immediately—which is especially unjust considering the fact that bigger farms and facilities have between one and six years to come into compliance and will no doubt get lots of help from the government.

Even worse, a farm or facility that wishes to contest FDA’s decision has only ten days to put together supporting facts and documentation and send it to the FDA. On top of that, there is no formal hearing process in which to contest the decision—and no way to re-qualify for the exemption. Once it is revoked, it’s game over.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, organic food is often the first to be blamed for foodborne illness. Remember the European E. coli outbreak? Organic farms were blamed with no evidence to support the contention. And now there is no need to prove that a farm is the source of the illness. Their exemption can be revoked on mere suspicion.

In addition, the proposed rules discriminate against small farmers and food producers who wish to diversify. The rules now say that all foods sold by farmer or food processor fall under the $500,000 cap, instead of just the food that is under the FDA’s jurisdiction and therefore subject to the FSMA. Produce is, of course, under their jurisdiction. But meat and poultry products fall under the USDA’s jurisdiction and should not be subject to these rules.

So a farmer who has $500,000 sales in poultry and $10,000 sales in organic fruit could never get an exemption, because the farmer exceeds the $500,000 total food sales limit. This will discourage diversification by farmers to include the small-scale production of fruits and vegetables, which is contrary to the intent of the Tester-Hagan amendment. It doesn’t make sense to treat small-scale production of produce the same as large-scale production, just because the same farmer is producing other types of food—as many small farmers must, in order to survive.

We warned earlier that the FDA should not be put in charge of our farms. It did not make sense because the FDA knows absolutely nothing about farming and also has demonstrated its bias again and again against small and natural operations in favor of large and powerful companies. The FDA was given authority over farms anyway through the Food Safety Modernization Act, and now we see that it is proceeding exactly as we feared.

Action Alert! The FDA has extended the comment period for the new rules to September 16—which gives us an opportunity to provide additional comment. Write to the FDA and ask them to create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA. Please take action immediately!

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  • David Fanelli

    Big Farm combines contribute waaaaaay more money to the political establishment than small farmers…and, as we’ve seen in recent years, money talks when it comes to the political arena…to them, it really doesn’t matter what is best for us, what is healthiest for us, or what is safest for us to consume. What matters is, HOW MUCH MONEY can you give me towards my campaign for election, or re-election.

    It’s a sad state of affairs because we don’t have men/women of the highest moral character running for office these days… actually, we have quite the opposite!

  • Kay Beams

    I am asking the FDA to create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA. Please take action immediately!

  • jane Smythe

    I am asking you to create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA.

  • Joanne D

    What does the government have against small farmers? The fact that they are small and therefore can’t make political mega-donations – but can still make Big Ag look stupid and venal. Big Ag doesn’t like that.

  • MICHAEL MANGINO

    What is with you people .This profit driven world is driving everything to h***.

  • Christine McMasters

    I strongly urge the FDA to create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA.

  • Rex Nunnally

    Dear Sirs:

    Please allow due process to small farmers and stop the abuse and harassment. Just because they aren’t huge corporations doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be treated be fairly.Also, a 10 day time limit to respond to the FDA is extremely unfair and sounds like bullying!

  • Jean

    We need to stop letting the government snow us under. All they know is how to make other lives miserable!! We need to stand up and give our support to the farmers who want to do right by the people. Why does the government always have to be so greedy. I am totally sick of them getting so much in to all our lives. Please pass this on to all you know or don’t know. Keep it moving!!

  • Emily Dale

    When corporate agriculture has access to positions with government agencies through the back door, nothing good will come of it, this being a blatant example. Nearly 20% of our population is out of work if we include those who have given up looking for a job, and now all small farmers will be shut down as well. The USA-Land of Poverty and Corporate Greed!

  • Mike

    its time to end the FDA. the people and especially the farmers don’t need an organization that caters solely to big agribusiness.

  • Gertrude “Trudy”

    It is not enough to ask the FDA to play nice. We need to ask our supposed representatives in Congress to kick FDA out of the farm business altogether. The corruption in FDA has become open and blatant–because there are no checks and balances, no penalties whatsoever, on FDA. Further, FDA’s biased support of Pharma brings in big money to the government. A friend in USDA tells me FDA is the government’s fair-haired boy, for that reason, and that USDA stands in worse position because USDA spends money on testing, which FDA does not. Money Rules!

    Ask the FDA? No! Ask Congress to repeal, or at least to amend, the FSMA! We won’t get what we ask either way, but at least it would be more logical.
    Sorry–I see no good outcome out of asking FDA to do anything that does not have huge money bags tied to the request letter.

  • Jenifer

    Who gets to decide if I’m shouting? YOU nor ANYONE else can HEAR my all caps. When did we get so prissy we have to disengage with anyone who uses all caps? I disagree heartily with that.

  • Andrel La Faye Hughes

    Join in, help the Farmers…Save Yourself!! “Corporate America” cares NOTHING ABOUT YOU OR YOUR HEALTH!!

  • Nina Craig

    I farm and this new farm bill makes me sick, literally.

  • Frank Leeds

    What do you have against small farms?

  • j.michael carney

    We The People have become a joke . … Our fears have become realized , Corporations are running the show and they don’t want any competition . Foods /GMOs have become Vaccines a killing machine to all life . I think the FDA , USDA , and all the government agencies are all but a army to destroy the American Way Of Life , You don’t think so //// Cross Them , you will see …. I say attack one and they will crumble , attack one big corporation and see . Civil Disobedience can work !!!

  • To Whom It May Concern:
    I am writing to appeal to you for a truly just action on your part in regard to the possible revocation of the exemption for small farmers (those making less than $500,000 in sales per year) from the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Under the Tester-Hagan Amendment they should be exempt from the requirements of the FSMA, as the burdens imposed by the FSMA could easily ruin the businesses of small farmers. In addition, the new rules being proposed by the FDA would completely undermine the intent of the Tester-Hagan amendment, and impose unfair and biased regulations on small farmers, that are not being put upon the larger farmers (those in league with big Agri-business). Furthermore, the FDA should not be in charge of our farms–let them stick to the regulation of drugs; they know nothing about the intricacies of good farming.

  • Diana L. Villafana

    Attention FDA,
    What do you have against small farmers?
    Please, please create a clear and justifiable standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA.
    Don’t discriminate against small farmers.
    Thank You!

  • Dr. Who?

    Well, it turns out that it isn’t just the government behind this; our treasonous politicians are willingly taking their marching orders from the globalist dictates from the UN …… and THAT is why there has been a plan to dissolve the community enhancing benefits of local farming.

    Expanding on the words of author Holly Sklar, the globalist cabal of elitist sociopaths have had a long time plan in place, where in order to regain absolute control of the world’s populations, they must first dissolve any sense of nationalism, ethnicity and religion that would tend to bind people together with any form of identity.

  • Katharine Blake

    Dear FDA People,

    Please put together and present a clearly written, appropriate and responsible standard for revoking exemption for small farms and facilities, not the vague language that is currently used; allow for due process to contest the decision; provide a pathway to re-qualify for the Tester-Hagan exemption; and limit the definition of food in the $500,000 sales ceiling to those products under the jurisdiction of the FSMA and the FDA. Please actually protect the small farms and facilities instead of slanting this legislation toward big Agribusiness/ Small farms are very different in their production and resources. This country was built on small farms, they provide excellent products and do not destroy the soil for future generations, which is a matter for questioning as regards big agribusiness. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

  • James Pelowski

    Please save our great nation. Small farmers made this country a sucess. They use much less poison sprays to keep ground water pure. Jarge farmers are spraying in excess just to get a better bottom line. They only sit in a tractor and that is it. They will have future health problems because of no excercize. We small farmers know what GOD directs us to a future in America.Large farms are poisioning and destroying everything in nature. There are no more phesants and game birds in the fields any more. Don’t believe me, come and visit our neighbors., they refuse GMO plants .Deer come across my neighbors fields and eat my natural plants they refuse GMO plants . They are smart creatures and we have humans who think that they know better. Just allow all fields to be poisoned and finally we will all pay for this bad way of farming.

  • David O’Daniel

    Seems like there is an all out effort to cripple small farmers. Restrictions on eggs from free range chickens. Regulations that will surely put small farms out of business. Irradiated food? Sorry, this government is out of control. Can’t help but wonder if this is a response to a growing movement to label GMOs. These are scary times. It appears that there is a mighty effort to control our food supply.

  • Bette Schultz

    Dear FDA Czar – It has come to my attention that your agency has made new rules that nullify the Tester-Hagan Amendments and their protection to our small farmers. The last I looked, only Congress can legislate laws so are your new rulings merely suggestions? Your rules are contributing to the death of our Republic and I request that you reconsider and rescind these rules so that small farms can remain solvent and productive. I truly don’t understand why you even have any say in the business of farmers. You don’t seem to know anything about farming.

  • Irene

    Please make the rules fair and not protective of corporate monopoly interests. The current situation where small organic producers can be targeted for destruction by the FDA to protect corporate monopolies is illegal according to the constitution and unfair to eaters of food as well as unfair to small farmers

  • Bette Schultz

    Dear FDA Czar – It has come to my attention that your agency has made new rules that nullify the Tester-Hagan Amendments and their protection to our small farmers. The last I looked, only Congress can legislate laws so are your new rulings merely suggestions? Your rules are contributing to the death of our Republic and I request that you reconsider and rescind these rules so that small farms can remain solvent, productive and private property. I truly don’t understand why you even have any say in the business of farmers. From your rulings you don’t seem to know anything about farming.
    Concerned with respect,
    Bette Schultz,
    Whitefish, MT

  • DJ Thomas

    It is clear to Americans that FDA is part of an evil conspiracy to force us to consume deadly GMO foods. There appears to be no limit to the governments plans for depopulation.

  • It’s simple, small farmers are not big contributors. Unfortunately, for the most part, our government has been bought.

  • donald mclean

    We consider the rights of small producers to be among those of great importance.
    We don´t want to be legislated and controlled by big agri business, or the legislators
    that are on their payrolls

    Thank You
    Donald C. McLean

  • Dan C

    You had me up until the splitting of exceptions at 500,000. Granted, a large CSA might push that amount, but the intent of the rule is that a small farm will be considered a non-threat.
    By pushing the margins (500K in meat sales and then adding 10K in vegetable sales), it seems you are trying to subvert the law with obfuscation (USDA vs FDA, etc).
    Instead, we need to look at comparisons to other businesses and personal income derived from those sales.
    A plumber or electrician that grosses 500K isn’t doing the kind of paperwork or stress of liability that these food laws are creating, and personal income on that 500K might be 250K if they get into a good area where they can jack their prices (it’s typical to have 100% markup on parts)
    A farmer grossing 500K will be lucky to clear 50K after expenses working over 5000 hours per year, and much of that will even get paid to family help for additional labor.
    That’s not a living, that’s slavery, and these rules and exceptions don’t consider the actual farmers who actually do the work: they just use numbers from nowhere.
    The only part of the exception that makes sense is the “local” part. It shouldn’t matter if a farmer grosses 10 million dollars per year if it’s all sold to people who know him personally. The FDA uses threats of pathogens to harvest tax money to pay its employees. It doesn’t have any interest in actually protecting people. If it did, we wouldn’t have an FDA, we would have some kind of Health Pentagon (doctors, nutritionists, ecologists, farmers and teachers), and there wouldn’t be any economists in it.

  • rebecca

    i am sick of the rich elite !%ters making all the laws! the people r incharge, we should be making the rules! we r tired of being governed,inspected,spied on,directed,law driven,numbered,enrolled,indoctrinated,preached at,controlled,estimated,valued,censored,commanded by creatures who have neither the right,nor the wisdom,nor virtue to do so! governed at every operation,transaction,noted, registered,taxed,stamped,measured, assessed,licensed,authorized,,admonished,forbidden,reformed,corrected,punished,,trained,ransomed,exploited,monopolized,extorted,squeezed,robbed, then at the slightest resistance,the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined,despised,harassed,tracked,abused,clubbed, disarmed,imprisoned,judged,condemned,shot, deported,sacrificed,,sold,betrayed,,mocked,ridiculed,outraged,dishonored, that is government; that is justice,that is it’s morality…. with the revolution it is another matter. NO MORE AUTHORITY. NOT IN THE CHURCH,NOR IN THE STATE,NOR IN LAND,NOR IN MONEY.

  • Lou

    “What Does the Government Have Against Small Farmers?”

    Clearly everything. “Government” is clearly driving small farms out of existence.

    Subjects WILL eat GMO crap and die early. N’cest pas?

  • if you comply with global gap the majority of the FISMA thing is not much to worry about. the main issue is the water testing…. course im from the tree fruit industry and i take insult having the risk of apples lumped in with vegetables with no scientific proof of risk. BTW thank the tree fruit industry for complainin about fisma alot. we are why there is an extended comment period, we are not happy about the water testing rules. every 7 days is stupid, and treating the water is cost prohibitive. which the water is owned by the state, if the quality of the water doesnt meet the standard of the government. then the state is selling a bad good.

  • Doc Tomorrow

    Dear FDA et al:

    Okay, we get it, you’ve won. You are the masters of our fate. You are now free to poison us, destroy our livelihoods and seize all of our properties. Congratulations, all powerful masters. We will die silently and leave you to possess the world of your creation. The joke is on you though. You will not last for long in that toxic world and your last dying gasp from your cancerous, tubercular lungs will carry your question to the winds,”What have we done, is there no one to save us?” And the winds will whisper softly back to you, “Kiss my organic.”

    • Doc Tomorrow

      Hmmm…, apparently there’s something offensive about that three letter word you removed that the FDA can kiss. How about “butt”, is that acceptable?

  • Claire Richardson

    I just cannot begin to convey how sick I am that small farms are being assaulted by big conglomerate farms, Monsanto and Dow, and now the FDA. what’s next, no food? It’s already apparent that there are so many big farms that the bees can’t get enough ‘normal’ food to keep themselves healthy and productive. The huge farms aren’t growing bee food.. Bees are the canary, and we’re next.
    I’m thrilled to support small farmers at several of my local farmers markets, but even they have trouble. One local dairy had so much regulation it wasn’t worth it to continue. There went our cream top milk, and a lot of cheese. No one had any illness from them either. go figure, or wait, we did figure it out. It’s lobbyists against small businesses/farms. If I wasn’t handicapped, I’d be out digging in the dirt myself and helping small organic farms for free.
    Climates are changing, and we desperately need to keep our small farms in business. they have a better chance to change with the climate, and feed us.