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N.H. Farmers Prepare for New Food Safety Law

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Michael Samuels for NHPR
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You might have heard about the Food Modernization Safety Act, a large-scale overhaul of food safety rules aimed at reducing food-borne illnesses.

Here in New Hampshire, home to an estimated 4,200 commercial farms, those in the agriculture industry are bracing for potentially big changes in their operations.

The new rules were prompted in part by a series of fatal or otherwise severe outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses — and an estimated 3,000 die from such diseases on an annual basis.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (or FSMA, for short) takes the approach of trying to step up prevention of such illnesses "by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it." 

The law itself is exhaustive (nearly 90 pages long) and it’s taken several years to hammer out all of the rules to go along with it. Along the way, there’s been plenty of concern among local farmers as to what, exactly, the new regulations will require — and at what cost.

“What I’m most concerned about is, how are we going to implement this in a way that doesn’t disadvantage small farmers?” Roger Noonan, who works at Middle Branch Farm in New Boston and serves as the president of the New England Farmers Union.

That group has voiced concerns that the federal food safety rules could raise costs and “unfairly burden local and regional food innovations and limit opportunities for family farmers to launch and grow their businesses.”

"We have to ensure that we can implement this in a sane, responsible manner that doesn’t jeopardize public health or put these farms out of business," Noonan later added.

Here’s more from Noonan on his concerns, as part of a conversation about the Food Safety Modernization Act on Wednesday’s edition of The Exchange.

As reported by the Concord Monitor, the new rules wouldn’t necessarily impact all farms.

“The rule applies to all produce farms that sell more than $25,000 of food per year,” the Monitor noted. “Many farms selling under $500,000 of food per year can be exempt from the rule, provided a majority of their sales go directly to consumers, restaurants and stores within 275 miles of the farm. Yet exempt farms still have to keep records and label their produce indicating the exemption.”

And that last part is particularly important, according to Heather Bryant, who’s part of a team at the UNH Cooperative Extension that’s helping farmers make sense of the law.

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Heather Bryant, field specialist with the UNH Cooperative Extension, and Sandra Eskin, director of the Safe Food Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, discuss what the new law might mean for farmers.

Bryant says it’s really important for all farmers — regardless of what requirements they think might apply to them — to review their financial records to make sure they have the right documentation to prove their eligibility or exemption under the new law.

“See if they can show, what are their total food sales? What are their total produce sales? What are their total sales that are direct market?” Bryant explained. “The way the exemptions and modified requirements work, if you can’t prove you’re eligible for them, you could lose them.”

You can listen to the full conversation about the new food safety law and its implications for New Hampshire below.

EXCHANGE_WED.MP3

For more on these issues, check out these resources:

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