“Please pass the locally-produced, small-batch, wild-foraged elderberry and ramps jelly,” was hardly a phrase that would have made sense at the Sunday brunch table ten years ago, but now there seems to be very little that can keep people away from the growing artisanal food market. And though the whole scene can get a little ridiculous (Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein sum it all up on an episode of Portlandia) the fact is that these businesses are really the vanguard of our local and sustainable food systems.
Value-added business models create an even bigger demand for locally produced food, providing smaller producers with a larger market--one in which they stand to earn potentially higher premiums on their produce. Another market also exists for “seconds” or produce not cosmetically fit for markets, CSA’s restaurants, etc… Folks with a strong interest in building the local food system who don’t have the capital or know-how to buy and run a farm, can create local-food-centered businesses with lower risk exposure. Artisanally produced local food business build local and sustainable economies.
And now these businesses are being threatened.
A newly proposed amendment to the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) requires local artisanal producers to register with the FDA. The FSMA, which was passed in 2010 and is still in the interpretation phase within the FDA, exempted “retail food establishments” from registering with the FDA. Retail food establishments were defined as all facilities that sell more than half of their products to consumers in the same state within a 400-mile radius under the Tester-Hagan Amendment to the FSMA - an amendment designed to protect and build healthy local food systems.
The newly proposed FDA Amendments to Registration of Food Facilities would limit this exemption to only products that were manufactured or processed “on-farm.” It makes sense to exempt farmers from federal regulations on the sales of their on-site manufactured and processed foods, but dropping other small businesses out of this exemption could damage the local food economy.
The Tester-Hagan amendment to the federal Food Safety Modernization Act sought to reduce the scope of this pre-existing requirement by exempting any food business that sells the majority of its food directly to consumers at locations such as roadside stands and farmers markets. The amendment directed FDA to develop a list of other direct-to-consumer venues that would be considered, and the agency has developed a rather comprehensive list. But the FDA’s proposed rule only exempts farms selling at such direct-to-consumer locations — leaving many small artisan food producers subject to unnecessary regulation.
In addition, for those businesses that must register, the proposed rule requires electronic registration and a contact email address. The proposed rule also requires that every food business also register with Dun & Bradstreet’s system to get a universal number, which is then also filed with the FDA. These new requirements will burden small food businesses whose owners do not have convenient internet access or use email regularly, whether for religious or practical reasons."
The fact is that running these locally owned, operated, distributed and consumed businesses takes time. A lot of time. Margins on food businesses are tight. Many are understaffed and those employees on the job are overworked. Most simply do not have the time, staff, or funds to comply with the mountain of federal paperwork that would be required under these newly proposed amendments. Food safety is of the utmost importance, and when it comes to a nationally distributed brand, it makes complete sense to have federal oversight making sure that we don’t have outbreaks of e-coli and listeria. However, at the local level, it would be overkill that would stifle the growth of the local economy.
That is not to say that they should not be monitored, and the Tester-Hagan amendment requires that these businesses are in compliance with all state regulations, and leaves the monitoring at the state level.
The FDA has asked for comments on these newly proposed amendments and we at Wellness Warrior have something to say. Please join us by visiting our campaign to support artisanal producers and registering comments with the FDA. We’ve drafted a sample letter (which you can find on the campaign page) that you can simply cut and paste into Regulations.gov comment box.
Make your voice heard and protect our small businesses and the local food economy!
Image via Flickr
FDA Compliance to Tester-Hagan via Weston A. Price Foundation
Comments needed on FDA’s proposed registration requirements via Farmers and Ranchers Alliance
Amendments to Registration of Food Facilities via Regulations.gov
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson