Congressional efforts to increase federal control over food and agriculture could have dramatic and dangerous consequences for the region’s local food systems and small farmers, according to a report issued today by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

Based on data from small farms across the state, “Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest” shows that the requirements imposed by Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, would drive up costs for farms and small food businesses, force farms out of profitably markets, and result in business closures and lost jobs.  For example, the bill would force farms that create processed foods like maple syrup, cheese and spring salad mixes to comply with rigorous testing and management procedures that could typically cost a farmer 150 hours and $9,500 per year.
Although the proposed federal legislation would indeed crack down on abuses at large-scale food processing companies, “the bills apply the same standards to corporate soft drink manufacturers and community-based farm food entrepreneurs alike, imposing costs that the small business cannot survive,” notes Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.  Small farms and the many jobs they create could easily find themselves in jeopardy as a result of this legislation. The job loses would be significant: The report estimates that the 1,429 North Carolina farms that perform food-processing activities employ a total of 8,500 full time and seasonal workers.
North Carolina consumers and government have made a commitment to growing the state’s local, small farm food system, the report notes.  North Carolina has invested more than $40 million in small-scale food business development and alternative farming, encouraging experimentation and practices that S.510 fails to take into consideration.  Those investments are at risk under S.510.
Rather than treating all food producers the same, “Hurting NC’s Local Food Harvest” recommends that Congress ?1. write new, more flexible rules for small farms and businesses, and?2. fund educational programs and outreach to improve those small producers’ safety practices.
“The federal government has an obligation to better understand the processes involved in local, healthy food systems before attempting to regulate them,” said McReynolds.
S.510, which may come up for a vote next week, grew out of concerns that erupted from a massive spinach contamination issue in California in 2006.  Co-sponsored by North Carolina senator Richard Burr, the bill is supported by a coalition of large food-business concerns and consumer groups, such as General Mills, Kraft Foods, and the National Restaurant Association.  Groups dedicated to organic and small farming and local food production, including CFSA, Farm Aid, the Organic Trade Association, and the National Farmers Union, are fighting for changes in the bill.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, CFSA,  is a non-profit association of over 1,200 farmers, businesses and consumers working to create a just and healthy food supply.  CFSA maintains a large and up-to-date online food guide, holds the largest sustainable farming conference in the Southeast, provides other training, does farm policy advocacy and leads special projects on organic grains and seeds.

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