The FDA’s Double-Barreled Assault on Farmers

Brandon Howell

1/31/2014 12:01:00 AM - Brandon Howell

In a recent speech, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told the unvarnished truth about proposed regulations coming down the hatch from the Food and Drug Administration.

That being that they’re an “assault on the farming industry.”

He’s right; from Georgia to New York, the FDA’s first-ever push to regulate produce is no more than a package of bureaucratic hogwash running roughshod on domestic produce farmers.

Intended to safeguard consumers from macrobial contamination, they cast the federal regulatory net over “the use of animal manure, water sanitation and other factors that could affect microbial contamination of fresh produce.”

Black pulled no punches in saying it means the gates are likely open to further intrusion, and called on the agency to instead look into tightening its grip on imported foods imported into America rather than domestic producers.

It’s started with produce farmers, but who’s to say chicken or beef farms aren’t next? When in the Obama administration’s time has the mindset been a minimal level of federal intervention?

Crafted as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the rules are meant as means for “the FDA to take a more proactive and less reactive position,” in the words of the congressman who sponsored the bill.

According to one report, they impact 40 percent of domestic farms, handing a federal agency the power to impose “new rules for each step of produce farming – from growing to harvesting to packing.”

Black isn’t the first to dub them an excessive overreach and possible nail in the coffin for many small farmers. The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance decried a “guilty until proven innocent” nature, arguing the inquisition on farmers would bring higher food prices for consumers.

An Albany, New York producer said earlier this month he was certain a $10,000 bill for complying with the new rules was in order for the first year alone, thanks to stricter water compliance standards, “similar to ones used for public swimming pools.”

As he went on to note, that’s not a better means of ensuring food safety, just regulatory excess.

New York Farm Bureau’s Kelly Young questioned why this agency, not the Department of Agriculture, was handling it in the first place and stated farmers will probably be pushed into hiring full-time staff solely to deal with the regulations, meaning higher cost and less profit.

The FDA has consented to reviewing its proposal, though that carries the caveat of not being done until June 2015. In the meantime, the 10th amendment will continue to be disregarded, a point that goes beyond the flaws of the rules themselves.

It’s downright insulting for centralized bureaucrats, hundreds of miles away, to tell state agencies they can do their job better than them. Food safety standards in the domestic arena should chiefly lie with state level agencies, like the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

As Black’s campaign later stated via Twitter, the “GDA can ensure better food safety standards on farms than federal bureaucrats in DC.”

Unfortunately the double-barreled regulatory assault endured by the private sector during the Obama era is unlikely to go anywhere, as evidenced by the president’s fifth State of the Union speech. The FDA has extended a platitude here, but if real solutions were coming soon they’d throw them out altogether.

Based off what we’ve seen thus far, don’t get optimistic there; the assault’s probable to continue.