Tester demands FDA rules protect family farmers, small producers

Senator calls agency out for ignoring intent of his 2011 law

(GREAT FALLS, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is telling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change course and properly implement his 2011 law to protect small family farmers and producers from new federal food safety requirements they don’t need and can’t afford.

Tester included a critical amendment in 2011’s Food Safety Modernization Act that protects smaller Montana farmers and producers from onerous federal regulations if they sell the majority of their food locally to consumers and have less than $500,000 in gross annual sales.

The FDA recently began to implement Tester’s amendment, but the proposed drafts of the agency’s new rules could actually force smaller producers to deal with the same food safety requirements as big corporations that sell food nationwide.

“Small growers and producers selling straight to local consumers don’t require the same regulations that large producers do, and Congress passed a law making that clear,” said Tester, a family-scale grain farmer. “It’s outrageous for the FDA to ignore my common-sense law. The agency needs to change course before they hurt the livelihoods and jobs of Montana’s family farmers and producers.”

Unless changed, the proposed FDA rules could force smaller producers to conduct the same water quality tests as large producers, prevent small farmers from selling their products at farmers markets and treat groups of small farms like large corporations, among other provisions.

“We need more small farms and facilities, not fewer, and these proposed rules must not stymie local economic growth,” Tester said in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “I urge you to rectify the rules to ensure that small farms, farmers’ markets and local cooperatives are able to thrive while protecting food safety from the biggest threats.”

Tester this week also met with FDA Deputy Commissioner Mike Taylor to share his concerns about the rules in person. Taylor told Tester he would take a close look at the proposed regulations.

Under Tester’s law, family farmers and smaller producers would continue to be overseen by local and state food safety and health agencies. In 2007, less than four percent of Montana farms had sales higher than $500,000.

Tester this week also called on the U.S. Agriculture Department to back off new poultry and meat processing rules that help the world’s largest meatpacking companies at the expense of smaller processing facilities and local food producers.

Tester’s letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is available online HERE. The comment period for the proposed food safety rules lasts until November 22, 2013. The FDA is accepting comments online HERE.