Watauga farms exempt from new FDA rules
by Anna Oakes
None of the farms in Watauga County are large enough to be subject to new federal food safety regulations, released in draft form for public comment last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That's because the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act that authorized the new regulations included an exemption for farms with less than $500,000 in annual sales.
"None of the farms in the county are producing at a level to fall under those guidelines," said Jim Hamilton, director of the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center.
In 2011, for instance, cash receipts of vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries in the county totaled $596,000, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
New standards for the growing, harvesting, packing and holding of produce for human consumption include periodic testing of agricultural water; treatment and methods of application for manure as a soil amendment; farm worker hygiene practices; separation of wild and domestic animals from growing areas; required farm personnel training; and others.
Small farms with annual sales less than $500,000 and with a majority of sales to consumers and local retailers or restaurants would be exempt from these standards, but subject to food labeling requirements. The FDA can withdraw a farm's exemption, however, in the event of an active investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak that is directly linked to that farm.
New standards for preventive controls for human food include a required food safety plan, to include a hazard analysis, preventive controls, monitoring procedures, corrective actions, verification activities and recordkeeping.
Farms with sales less than $500,000 and with a majority of sales to consumers and local retailers or restaurants would be exempt from most of these standards, but could be required to notify the FDA about its own preventive controls and monitoring or that it complies with applicable local regulations.
Although local farmers may be spared from the additional costs and hassles of new federal regulations, they do face pressure from other sources, including prospective buyers, to verify that their food is safe, Hamilton noted.
Many retail and institutional buyers, such as school systems and grocery store chains, require farms to have Good Agricultural Practices certification before purchasing food products from them. The certification process can be costly and time consuming.
Hamilton said the Cooperative Extension is planning a GAP training workshop for area producers sometime in March.
For more information about the new FDA food safety rules, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/default.htm.