I am a full-time Alaskan farmer, husband and dad. I love being part of the agriculture industry and contributing to my community. I'd like to think I live a purpose-driven life; growing fruits and vegetables for people to consume has become my life's work.
However, I must convey my dismay over the actions of our federal government and efforts to control all farming activities in this country under the guise of food safety. The Food Safety Modernization Act, also known as FSMA, is detrimental to local food production and a threat to the most basic of freedoms: our ability to choose what we feed our family. The FSMA makes the assumption that all food borne illness are directly linked to the farm where the food was grown, this is an insult to common sense and disregards proper off farm food handling procedures.
There are more hospitalizations and over five times the deaths from over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) overdoses than from food borne illnesses. In my opinion, FSMA has been so poorly crafted that it's become less about food safety and far more about the politics of your food choices.
According to the EPA, America's farmers provide the safest, least expensive, most abundant supply of food in the history of the world.
I have attended FSMA seminars sponsored by the FDA and spoken directly with Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. I have also spoken with Franci Havemeister, the State of Alaska's very own director of the Division of Agriculture, and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski's staff in Washington D.C. They or their staff have all spoken in support of the FSMA.
FSMA is a classic example of someone with a suit and tie farming with a pencil from a Washington D.C. office with a "Capitol Hill bureaucracy knows best" attitude.
I believe there are varying reasons for support of this law, none of which I find comforting as a small scale farmer.
Not only do America's farmers feed the United States, we also feed the world with our safe and affordable food. Yet our government deems it necessary to reserve the power to perform warrantless searches of my property and the property of anyone who grows and sells food.
It is estimated that to comply with the bureaucratic regulations the annual cost for small farms could total more than $13,000. The FDA has speculated that this financial burden alone not to mention the man hours necessary to comply with the proposed regulations could force thousands of small scale farmers out of business as well as discourage new farmers from entering the farming industry. The FDA acknowledges that some farmers will need to find off farm work to replace lost farm income due to the FSMA.
The FDA also estimates it will cost approximately half a billion dollars annually to fund the FSMA police force. Under FSMA farming will become a paperwork dependent industry where any farmer who chooses to operate outside of compliance with FSMA and sell food will be an outlaw food smuggler.
Can you imagine being threatened with a criminal conviction for selling fresh produce?
As of this moment, the FDA is indicating it will offer some exemptions for small farms, but these can be revoked at any time by the FDA. These exemptions will have varying regulatory steps depending on the amount of revenue a farmer earns. Through my research I have found examples of large corporations and government employees advocating that no farm be exempt from any aspects of this expensive, onerous law. The exemptions that allow small farmers to survive will always be under attack by the large corporations. I have mixed feelings about the exemptions, if this is such a good law why are exemptions necessary for the survival of Americas small farmers?
Big corporations are threatened by your garden and my farm. FSMA is their answer to the perceived threat to their food supply dominance.
The FDA will call this law a success if they can reduce food borne illness by four percent. There are many industry professionals that think this goal is unrealistic. At the same time, it is estimated that the USDA inspects less than two percent of the food imported into our country. Make no mistake, foreign farms will not face the same level of scrutiny or regulations being proposed for local farmers.
Ensuring food safety is the most important aspect of what I do in farming; as a father I believe in this mindset to the core. Yet, I see FSMA as a paperwork war on the local family farm. To truly increase the safety of the safest food supply in the history of the world it would be far cheaper and more beneficial to increase the education available to farmers and consumers. We are all partners in this goal.
We should take these steps before we encourage any further bureaucratic monkeying with our food supply. Otherwise, our future generations will be threatened with food insecurity and that will be a shameful legacy.
For more information on this topic you can search the web: "What's wrong with FSMA."
I urge all Alaskans, as consumers, to contact your federal representation and ask that they no longer support or fund the FSMA.
Arthur Keyes owns Glacier Valley Farm in Palmer and is the founder of the South Anchorage Farmer's Market. He was a produce manager for Safeway in Anchorage and has worked in produce all of his adult life. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Palmer Soil & Water Conservation District, Mat-Su Farm Bureau Board and Alaska State Farm Bureau Board.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.