“Take peanuts. To be safe, I want them tested as they leave the fields. I want them processed at temperatures high enough to kill salmonella. I want to store them covered so birds can’t contaminate them with their droppings. I want them tested before they are released to stores. These sorts of things will now be law.”

Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor, ABC News, on the Friday evening national news describing new rules issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in January 2011.

I don’t know much about producing peanuts, and it could be that the procedures Besser has long lusted for (he spent 13 years with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control before arriving at ABC News) are good ones for mass producing roasted peanuts. But the underlying message of his report on the new FDA rules is unfortunate–closely regulating farms in the fields is a good thing, and processing the hell out of foods to kill any possible pathogens is a good thing. 

Nearly three years ago, I asked in a blog post on the then-proposed new national food safety regulations a question I thought sounded provocative, but was likely far-fetched: “How does the idea of consulting a ‘technician’ sound in connection with producing your own compost?”

That “technician” will likely be stopping by many farms much sooner than even I might have imagined.  The FDA in its summary of the new rules (published yesterday) it plans for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act for produce says one of five highlights is this, affecting “biological soil amendments” (bet you didn’t know the new name for compost is a “biological soil amendment”): “Biological soil amendments of animal origin, such as composted manure, may contain pathogens of public health concern. To address this, the rule proposes reasonable time intervals between the application of a biological soil amendment of animal original and crop harvest. The proposed rule also has provisions pertaining to the handling and storage of biological soil amendments of animal origin.”

Very small farms will have three or four years to comply, depending on their sales, and there are no exemptions. In the meantime, the FDA is seeking additional funding to hire all those inspectors and technicians who will be coming around, looking over things, helping make sure your farm’s compost conforms with government regulations. Haven’t you been wondering when your government would send friendly helpers around, give you something of substance on all those taxes you pay? Maybe you want to welcome them with a glass of raw milk and cookies. 


Food activists in Flagstaff, AZ, must have seen the new FDA rules coming. In the days before the issuance yesterday of the proposed new FDA rules, they had expressed fears about the Food Safety Modernization Act as the basis for their proposed food-sovereignty ordinance. The proposed ordinance would exempt Flagstaff (town of 69,000) farms and other food producers that sell directly to individuals from state and federal rules, like the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Similar ordinances have been passed from Maine (where seven towns have adopted) to Santa Cruz, CA. The Maine ordinance has been challenged by the state in a legal suit against farmer Dan Brown of Blue Hill.

According to one supporter of the Flagstaff proposal, “The wording in the Food Safety Modernization Act is often vague and open to interpretation. To what extreme it will be enforced is anybody’s guess. Many cities and towns across the country (from Utah to Maine) have already decided it best to take preemptive action and pass Food Freedom Ordinances. The goal is to send a strong message to the FDA and other agencies that they value food freedom and organic farming. If a Food Freedom Ordinance is passed in Flagstaff, it will let the FDA and other agencies know that Flagstaff believes its citizens have the very basic right to grow, sell and consume the food of their choice.”

Now that the Food Safety Modernization Act is taking shape, will other towns feel a sense of urgency to similarly act to fend off those friendly FDA compost technicians? 


A Wisconsin judge yesterday set May 20 as the new trial date for raw milk farmer Vernon Hershberger. The trial had been scheduled to begin this Monday, but fierce pre-trial wrangling between the Wisconsin Attorney General and Hershberger’s lawyers forced the judge to put the trial off. He said he needs time to decide various issues, most notably, a contention by Hershberger that denying an expert witness on behalf of raw milk represents an interference with his religious freedom; Hershberger has argued he was constrained from legally challenging the state’s 2010 shutdown of his food distribution, and its assertion as part of the shutdown that raw milk is a health hazard, by his religious principles.