Behold the Strength and Power of the Sustainable Farming Lobby

Feedback from small and organic farmers has convinced the FDA to reconsider new food safety regulations.

sustainable farming lobby

(Photo: Dougal Waters/Getty Images)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

Most stories about the agriculture industry successfully lobbying the government to change regulations are depressing ones—stories of money and influence bringing about blank-check-like laws protecting big ag interests, like the Monsanto Protection Act.

The news that came out of the FDA yesterday, however, showed that organic and small farmers are capable of a successful lobbying effort too—one propelled by grassroots organizations of growers opposed to the FDA’s draft rules for the Food Safety and Modernization Act. Following increasing opposition to the rules that would hinder the way small growers operate, the FDA announced yesterday that it would revise the proposed rules and release a new draft for public comment next summer.

“These include changes to sections covering water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities (such as a farm that has a food-processing operation), and procedures used to withdraw the qualified exemption to these requirements for certain farms,” Michael R. Taylor, the administration’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, wrote on the FDA's website.

The focus on those particular rules pleases Sarah Hackney, grassroots director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Many, if not most, of the issues FDA has flagged are the issues that the sustainable agriculture community has weighed in on,” she says.

Farmers TakePart has spoken to since the draft rules were published raised concerns over the same issues. “We think that properly made compost should not be regulated. In fact, we think it should be recommended as a way to control pathogens,” Judith Redmond, a farmer from Northern California, told TakePart in October.

“Similarly, she believes that animals belong on a diverse, healthy farm, because they add manure to the soil, balancing the nutrients,” we wrote in October.

But Hackney says NSAC is only “cautiously optimist” about the new development, an attitude reflected in the group’s statement on the announcement, which says that there are other issues in the draft rules it believes still need to be addressed, such as wildlife habitat protections and the way FDA calculated revenue to determine which farms are eligible for modified rules.

Still, it’s heartening to see sustainable farmers show their clout—successfully—in Washington.

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