Politics, Government, Regulatory Agencies, The Plague, all things I try to avoid. On my personal blog I sometimes rant about issues, usually to no avail, but here on NDIN we have agreed to leave political ranting alone. We have touched a few issues, particularly ones that impact the world of the homestead/micro-farm. The NAIS was one such issue. I’d like to poke another one for a moment. Hopefully it won’t turn and bite me.
I’ve been following some of the “food safety” bills that are working their way through the Congress. They worried me because they made no allowances for micro producers or small diversified farms and they had the potential to put a huge financial burden of farms like mine. The bills also had NAIS requirements imbedded in them and similar programs for all produce. I watched, wrote, talked, watched, tracked, and worried. The momentum for passing these bills seems to have died (the bills haven’t gone away, they just are not the top priority right now.) So I keep watching but don’t worry to much. Imagine my surprise when I read about a farmer in Ohio who was sanctioned by Ohio Department of Health for washing his lettuce. The sanction comes out of new rules the ODH developed from some USDA/FDA guidlines. I went looking for the guidelines and found that they cover all the points presented in the “food safety” bills. They aren’t law. They aren’t even USDA rules yet. But in my state and many others they are being adopted and enforced as law.
So, how can it be bad for a farmer to wash his lettuce before taking it to the farmers market? There were several supposed problems. 1) Water is a vector for ecoli. 2) Washing the lettuce made it appear to be Ready to Eat, and it wasnt treated or labeled as such. 3) Cutting and bagging greens is “processing” and must be done in an inspected processing facility. There are lots of other things in these guidelines that could make life pretty tough for the small farmer.
The same thing is happening with the rules governing Cottage Food Production. This is the category that allows people to sell baked goods, jams and jellies, candy, etc. that they produced at home. Sales are usually limited to local markets. Now our state has just changed the rules to exclude just about anything that hasn’t been cooked. “A “Cottage Food Production Operation” is not permitted to process acidified foods, low-acid canned foods, or potentially hazardous foods or non-potentially hazardous foods not listed above. Low acid food means any food with a finished equilibrium pH greater than 4.6 and a water activity greater than 0.85. Acidified food means a low acid food to which acids or acid foods are added (Ex. Beans, cucumbers, cabbage, puddings, etc.). Potentially hazardous foodmeans it requires temperature control because it is in a form capable of supporting the rapid and progressive growth of infectious or toxigenic microorganisms (Ex. Raw or cooked animal products, cooked vegetables, garlic in oil, cheese cakes, pumpkin pies, custard pies, cream pies, etc.) Non-potentially hazardous food items/processes not permitted to be made or performed in a “Cottage Food Production Operation”–Snack Foods (potato chips, popcorn, trail mix, etc.); Cereals including granola; Repackaging of Foods; Production of Dry Food Mixes; Drying of foods including Herbs and Fruits, etc. These rules have put several vendors at our local market out of business.
I know that most of the authors and readers at NDIN are involved with small scale food production and sales in some way. We are either producers or consumers or both. This issue will impact our lives. The best we can do is get informed and get involved. Rule changes usually have a public hearing before they happen. We need to be there and make our voices heard. If we are producers we need to know what the rules are and work with the regulators to find solutions for our operations. If we are consumers we need to help the people we buy from be aware. We don’t have to like the rules, aspire to political office, but we must get involved in the process. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.