Comprehensive farm law changes on deck this week
Food safety rules cover soil, animals, worker training and bacteria testing.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The clock is ticking.
In a matter of hours, farmers across the United States will be obligated to adhere to the largest federal overhaul in agriculture policy in 70 years.
On Jan. 26, the Food Safety Modernization Act will be implemented, requiring farmers who earn $500,000 or more in annual revenue to follow new rules regarding everything from biological soil amendments and domesticated and wild animals, to worker training, health and hygiene, equipment, tools, buildings, agricultural water and testing.
Kevin Robson, a horticulture specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau, said the law will affect about 200 farms across the state of Michigan, but mostly in West Michigan where the majority of fruit and vegetable crops are grown, including blueberries, squash, zucchini, asparagus, cherries, apples and peaches.
Tim Slawinski, manager of the food safety modernization unit at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the law is designed to assess all aspects of farming.
The biological soil amendment requires manure and compost to be healthy “animal-based parent material” to reduce the risk of contamination.
The law also addresses the importance of separating domesticated and wild animals on farms. Much of this is to prevent animals from intruding on fruit and vegetable farms, but Slawinski said there is another aspect of the law requiring farmers to assess their establishments before harvesting to ensure there is no evidence of animal intrusion and to limit the possibility of produce being infected by wild animals in their fields.
Although good hygiene is a general rule everywhere, Slawinski said farm owners now will be required to attend a one-day class provided by Michigan State University Extension and, in turn, train their employees to reinforce the importance of washing their hands after using the bathroom and working with equipment, not working with agricultural products if they are ill and not eating on the farm, among other things.
Slawinski said the water compliance rules are delayed until 2020, but the idea is to conduct frequent water testing for E. coli bacteria.
“Farmers have always been good stewards of the land and producing safe food, but this is Washington’s attempt at putting that down on paper,” Robson said.
Steve Klackle, a third-generation farmer who owns Klackle Orchards in Greenville, is a commercial grower of apples who will be affected by the new law.
He said there always have been state regulations pertaining to food safety, processing and packaging.
“It is not like everyone was doing nothing,” Klackle. “We make cider here, and as a condition of making cider in Michigan, you have to take an educational course every three or five years about food safety and about how to safely make cider.”
Klackle also said there are different tiers that ensure food safety, such as the regulations that buyers like Meijer or Walmart have to comply with.
Robson said there have been FSMA training sessions across the state over the past couple of years to educate farmers on what they need to do to become compliant. Some of those classes include an audit that is conducted on farms, and if the farm owners follow the protocols — which are not much different than the new law — they receive a Good Act Practices Certification.
Once the law is in place, farm owners will have to provide federal inspectors with documentation that proves staffs have been trained in various practices. Slawinski said MDARD is working with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to begin an inspection program. The inspections will not start until 2019, and MDARD will conduct the on-site inspections.
“There will probably be a targeted number of inspections per year, but (we’re) not necessarily going to inspect every farm once a year,” Slawinski said. “It will be a risk-based assessment of which farms to inspect per year, but a specific frequency hasn’t been set.”
The state of Michigan was given $700,000 by the FDA to help with the inspections.
FMSA sprang from an E. coli outbreak in spinach in 2006 and was signed into law in 2011. However, it was not implemented until now so industry professionals and food safety experts had time to shape the FSMA to fit their state’s needs, according to Robson.