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The proposed bill will not be the end of farmers market

21 April 2009 937 views No Comment

A misconception of a proposed bill is causing undue concern for farmers who specialize in growing fresh produce for farmers’ markets in the United States, according to a representative of Ohio’s 9th District Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.


Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, is one of 40 co-sponsors of the bill in question, HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. The bill is currently under review by two House committees.


According to the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC), the bill will centralize most of the food safety responsibilities of the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture into one new agency in the Department of Health and Human Services.


There has been some controversy over the food supply section of the bill because it would require food producers to keep better records and label all food and ingredients in case of a recall. It would also require directions on the food labels for handling and food preparation.


Kaptur’s press secretary, Steve Fought, said, “The bill is still in committee and has not reached the floor yet. But we want to be clear on the purpose of this bill.”


He said the bill was designed to tighten requirements on food processors such as American peanut processors whose products allegedly caused people to become sick from contaminated food. It will also increase standards for food being imported from foreign countries.


Additionally, the bill will require food producers that ship their products across state lines to register annually with the federal government and to undergo random inspections.


Fought was emphatic in saying, “It will not affect local farmers’ market. The intent of the bill is not to penalize small farmers. The farmers’ markets are not considered to be food establishments.


“The bill was written to improve the traceability of food products so that if there is a question, it can quickly be traced to the source,” he said. “Do you realize we have never discovered where the contaminated strawberries came from?”


He was referring to strawberries contaminated with hepatitis A that were given to Michigan schoolchildren in their lunches in 1997 and caused about 260 people to become ill. The strawberries were traced to a processing firm in San Diego, and were later discovered to have been imported from Baja California, Mexico. This was illegal as food for school lunches could only come from a domestic source. How the strawberries were contaminated was never actually determined.


“People in the United States have become accustomed to safe food,” he said.


Fought said Kaptur supports small farmers and those who grow fresh produce. “But at the same time, the bill may require some farmers to be subject to record keeping.”


He added that the bill is still in committee and will probably undergo many changes before it is voted on by lawmakers.


Defiance County Extension agent Bruce Clevenger said, “Farmers’ markets are considered to be a cottage industry and not a food establishment.


“I had a meeting this spring with vendors who will be in the farmers’ markets in Defiance, Sherwood and Hicksville,” he said. “I did address some food safety issues and explained to the vendors that, although they are not food establishments, they can educate their consumers about food safety.


“For example, if the consumer buys greens such as lettuce or radishes, they need to go home and wash those greens before using them,” he said. “It is not a law or a rule but a vendor can help educate the consumer about food safety.”

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