Food safety modernization act, gap, & silvopasture

I would like to start a discussion regarding the proposed FSMA regulation from the FDA. I have been told by the Maryland Department of Agriculture that my tree crops will be considered unfit for human consumption if I graze my animals around my trees. The comment period ends in November, I realize most people are not planting fruit, nut, cane, & vine crops in their silvopasture systems, but if you are or think you may in the future these changes will make it impossible for you to sell them to consumers.

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Comment by Brett Chedzoy on October 23, 2013 at 1:12pm

I posed this question to a couple of agroforestry specialist with Penn State (Eric Burkhart) and the NRCS (Tom Ward).  Their responses:

Eric - "

Yes, this is an unfortunate conundrum that I think is nevertheless not going away (regardless of producer comments). My understanding is that this issue has been on the table in southern Pecan-based silvicultural systems for many years. Producers have been asked (or required?) to limit livestock access to pecan orchards during the weeks leading up to and during fruit maturation for fear of livestock fecal matter mingling with the fruit as they fall or are shaken off of the tree. 

Not sure what can be done about it, as I think human health concerns (warranted or not) will trump the desire to see more agroforestry in the US. Perhaps producers should be encouraged to request a 'window' for grazing in any FSMA comments, to limit the chances of fruit contamination?"

Tom - "

Given the short duration and infrequent occurrence of grazing (intensive rotational grazing) with silvopasture it should not be difficult to reach some agreement on a window of livestock exclusion.  Surely a 30-60 day pre-harvest livestock exclusion would work for everyone."

Comment by Keith Ohlinger on October 24, 2013 at 7:31am

Thanks for your efforts Brett.  Unfortunately these responses are a perfect example of exactly what I am talking about.  Since I have 22.3 acres and a good number of animals, within 30-60 days I cover a good part of my land because of the managment intensive grazing.  From a conservation stand point, from a nutrient management standpoint, from an animal care standpoint I am a rockstar.  Obviously Tom Ward doesn't work with many small family farms.  I am not interested in feeding contaminated food to my family, why would I give it to anyone else, but my animals are not cartwheeling down the lanes throwing feces up into the trees.  They want us to exclude wildlife from our harvest areas for fear of fecal contamination.  I have been told that I should use fences, propane cannons or kill permits to fence out production areas.  I may be able to fence out most deer (most) but what about everything else that climbs, crawls, slithers, or flies?  All of these can, do and will pick up bacteria, we do too for crying out loud!  It can't be stopped.  Surely my animals will thrive with the sound of a propane cannon booming all day to say the least how happy it will make my family and my neighbors.  Their other suggestion fits perfectly with my conservation goals too, just kill everything.  What a wonderful idea!  I already know farmers who are shooting all the birds near their barns because they have been threatened with closure because of bird droppings at their processing barn.  I may as well not plant anything and just keep grazing, it makes absolutely no sense.

Comment by Brett Chedzoy on October 24, 2013 at 10:16am

Some suggestions:

  1. Counter bureaucracy with science.  There are several grant categories at NE SARE (.org) that might be a good fit (depending on partners and the role that you wanted to undertake) to fund research that: a) evaluates the actual risk (levels) of contamination of fruits and nuts in silvopasture systems; b) identifies Best Management Practices for the same (note that feasibility is a key part BMP's); and c) looks at the cost:benefit ratio of current regulations.  The deadline for the smaller SARE grants is ~ early December.  Likely partners could be UMD Extension or faculty, or a graduate student interested in local food production and agroforestry.
  2. Work with MD Farm Bureau and/or other farm advocacy groups to address burdensome or limiting regulations.  But having the science in hand to counter the assertions of the regulators will help.  I agree with Eric that human health concerns (especially in the day of almost monthly headlines on E. coli) will trump other arguments until proven otherwise.
  3. Try to work with the regulators to help educate them on how this really plays out on the ground, and offer to work with them on collaborative research (which they may or may not be able to fund and/or participate in).  It's their job to enforce policies - not to prove those policies to be flawed.
  4. In the meantime, create your own BMP's and be sure to follow them.  If I were in your shoes, I would continue to do what I knew was safe and reasonable until they shut me down.  But don't give the regulators any ammunition by contributing to the problem (i.e. being one of those operations that winds up in the newspapers - for the wrong reasons)
  5. And, of course, there's always the political route - calls and letters to your federal representatives.  A general gripe won't go far.  Be specific about what you do, how the new regs. affect and limit your operation's viability, and provide evidence (research and facts - not your own anecdotes and opinions) of why the regs are over-extending and unjustified.
Comment by Keith Ohlinger on October 24, 2013 at 12:35pm

Hi Brett:


I agree with all of your points and I have been doing these things.  I am on the Soil Conservation Board for our county and have met with all of our representatives at NRCS to discuss this problem.  I have met with the people in charge of the program at MDA and the people who help farmers comply with GAP and FSMA from MDA and the Department of Economic Development Authority in our area.  We were the first farm on the tour that our county held two days ago for all of our county’s state legislators and council members and I discussed this issue with them.  I have participated in all of the meetings and webinars offered by the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture that were run by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  I have contacted all of our folks in Congress and brought it up to any and all who will listen, Farm Bureau, University Extension, Food Council, etc., just like on here.  The challenge with the SARE grants and science is that the comment period ends November 15th.  FDA has picked the studies they want to believe and appear to be geared to follow them, even though the studies we have and my own personal experience is the exact opposite.  This leaves me with a choice, do I plant $75,000-$100,000 of trees and shrubs next spring.  I have been told by people in power that it will take a miracle for FDA to change these regulations.  I believe silvopasture to be the perfect system and the food that it produces to be safe but I may have to feed it all to my animals.  So the real question becomes will the sales of timber, the savings to my feed bill, the benefit to my animals and the benefits to nature offset the cost of planting and care for the trees.  I feel it will and we are going to move forward with the project but I was hoping to hear some others thoughts and their concerns besides just yours and mine.  Keep up the good work and I appreciate all that you do!

Comment by Brett Chedzoy on December 23, 2013 at 10:25am

in today's news...

"FDA to make food safety rules more farmer-friendly" 

Comment by Keith Ohlinger on January 9, 2014 at 3:08pm

Hi All:

Sorry for the slow reply Brett.  It does appear that our efforts had some effect.  Apparently the FDA was surprised by the responses that they received so they are going to rewrite the portions on water, manure and compost and resubmit them to the public for comment.  In the meantime, I have continued to work with MDA and have had visits with their representative who helps farmers comply with the proposed standards.  So far it appears that as long as I can stay 3-4 feet away from the tree crops with the grazing animals we should be able to make it work.  I have to write a risk assesssment and explain all the methods that we are using to avoid comtamination and obviously, neither MDA nor I have a crystal ball, but barring another policy change this should work for now.  Happy New Year to all!  I'll keep you updated as things proceed.

Comment by Keith Ohlinger on February 9, 2014 at 3:53am

Hi All:

Yesterday Michael Taylor, Deputy Director FDA, FSMA, was at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op to discuss the Food Safety Modernization Act as part of a panel with Ariane Lotti and Ferd Hoefner from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  This is apparently the first time Mr. Taylor has participated in this type of forum.  The venue was standing room only and I will give him credit because tone of the room was definitely not FDA friendly.  I had heard he was a nice man and his bio suggests great intelligence, I believe this is true.  That is hard for me to say because no other human being in my lifetime has caused me more sleepless nights than him and FSMA.  They all presented their materials and I spoke my piece when the time came, the room applauded and the panel seemed to appreciate what I expressed.  It was filmed by the local TV crew and I will try to forward a link if it becomes available.  One point saddened me in his response though.  He has been back and forth between USDA and FDA during his career and in my comments I explained that we graze our animals in a silvopasture system.  When he responded he said that he was not familiar with silvopasturing.  Obviously I know that Agroforestry is not the big sexy heart and soul of the USDA, but I would have thought that he would have at least heard of it before.  It just reinforces to me that while this system is superior in my mind and near and dear to my heart, we as a group have a long way to go to be main stream.  I realize that timber tends to be the main focus of the plantings and not tree crops for food, however I also know I'm not alone in what I do.  I think we all have to remember and remind others as well that we are also a food and fiber production model that is part of USDA Agroforestry.  I wish you all warmer weather and an early spring, I'll keep you updated.

Comment by Brett Chedzoy on February 10, 2014 at 12:03pm

You sound surprised, Keith, that Mr. Taylor isn't more familiar with the farm-side of agriculture.  The FDA, like many other government agencies, is responsible for their own particular mission (food safety, in this case).   20 years ago I worked for the non-point source pollution branch of the EPA.  Needless to say, our mandate to protect water quality was not always popular with other agencies and stakeholder groups like the Forest Service, NRCS, State Foresters, etc.   But they were doing their jobs and we were doing ours.   I was hired as a forester to "talk the same language" with these groups, and it seemed like via better communications and understanding of each others' issues that we were able to find acceptable compromises. 

Hopefully the same process is at work now between the FDA and USDA.   But regardless, its just as important and commendable that you and others take the time to share your concerns and help educate bureaucrats like Mr. Taylor.

Comment by Brett Chedzoy on February 25, 2014 at 8:04am

from LA Times...


Food safety rules rile organic farmers

FDA's proposed rules would curtail many Organic farming techniques

Jim Crawford, left, of New Morning Farm, says new food safety regulations would be an added expense that would hurt growers operating on the margins. (Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times)

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times | Feb. 22, 2014

HUSTONTOWN, Pa. — Jim Crawford was rushing to load crates of freshly picked organic tomatoes onto trucks heading for an urban farmers market when he noticed the federal agent.

A tense conversation followed as the visitor to his farm — an inspector from the Food and Drug Administration — warned him that some organic-growing techniques he had honed over four decades could soon be outlawed.

"This is my badge. These are the fines. This is what is hanging over your head, and we want you to know that," Crawford says the official told him.


To view the rest of the story, please click the following link:
Food safety rules rile organic farmers


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