In an emotional public hearing on the campus of Dartmouth College, farmers and consumers from across the region spoke out against the Food Safety Modernization Act. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration were on hand to listen.
"We are very committed to the idea that a one size fits all regulation does not work," said Michael Taylor of the FDA.
The proposal targets two key areas; produce safety and processing facilities. Small farms which sell less than $500,000 worth of goods a year would not have to comply with the new regulations.
"Follow the money, follow the money," Jake Guest said.
Guest owns the Killdeer Farm in Norwich, a farm that teeters right on the edge of that $500,000 threshold. He says the change will have a huge impact on farms in the Northeast. And as consumers decide where to spend their money, the big outfits are watching closely.
"The buy local movement has actually substantially cut into their bottom line," Guest said.
The Norwich farmer says increased regulations on water quality, manure usage and even added paperwork will be an added cost that could bring smaller farmers to the tipping point.
"They are talking about weekly testing of water; that is ridiculous," Guest said. "They are talking about tens of thousands of dollars."
Money that those at the hearing say will have little effect on huge farming operations out West, responsible for recent bouts of E.coli and other bacteria entering the country's food chain.
Guy Comtois is a farmer and state representative from New Hampshire.
"They will absorb these costs no problem at all and move on like it never happened. We, on the other hand, are stuck with these problems," Comtois said.
An unofficial show of hands was a clear indication that Comtois' point had strong agreement. But FSMA had at least one supporter, Gabrielle Meunier of South Burlington whose son was hospitalized for seven days because of bad food.
"Foodborne illness does exist. It exists everywhere and as I said... the vast majority goes undiagnosed," Meunier said.
The law requires that the final regulations for FSMA be ironed out by the summer of 2015. It's expected to take a couple of years after that for farmers to come into full compliance.
"I applaud them for having a hearing where we can actually voice our concerns and make our voices felt, so at least we can feel like we did something," said Bob Pomykala, a farmer from Grand Isle.
"We know people are passionate about their food, they are passionate about their local food systems. We want to work with the community to make this work well for food safety as well for these local food systems," Taylor said.
The FDA is holding a series of public meetings so those directly affected by the law have the chance to voice their concerns before it's implemented.
If you want to weigh in, there is still time for written comments:
Division of Dockets Management Food and Drug Administration 5630 Fisher Lane, Room 1061 Rockville, MD 20852 FAX: 301-827-6870
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