Those who have read Joel Salatin’s books, especially Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, are well aware that he has a strong aversion to government regulation of food production. However, in his most recent tome, Folks, This Ain’t Normal he reluctantly acknowledged that “if you have a guard gate, security fence, and no trespassing signs around the facility, perhaps government inspection is appropriate”. On the other hand, he says that few would think that regulations should apply to “Aunt Matilda’s Sunday dinner prepared from her own garden, her own chickens, her own kitchen flour mill, and her own canned pickles”. Where should we draw the line and who should do it?

At the federal level in the United States, the Food, and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of drawing the line. State and local health departments often regulate food handling processes as well, but they typically look to the FDA for guidance or for the final call. On Friday, January 4th, the FDA issued a press release, initiating a 120 day public comment period for new food safety standards for foodborne illness prevention and produce safety.

The 1,236 page document is intended to reduce illnesses and deaths associated with poorly handled food. According to the press release, “The burden of foodborne illness in the United States is substantial. One in six Americans suffer from a foodborne illness every year. Of those, nearly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from their illness.”

One of the common complaints about regulations is that they often take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In a Huffington Post article, Mike Taylor, the FDA’s head of food safety, said that isn’t the case with these regulations. For example, the article notes that the word ‘exemption’ appears 120 times in the produce rule.

One of the key questions to address is what constitutes a ‘small farm’ where fewer standards will be imposed. Several options are identified in the draft and individuals are encouraged to weigh in.

How will these impact agriculture in Maryland? Previous efforts by the Maryland Department of Agriculture to develop and promote Good Agricultural Practices may help farmers who have already started to address food safety issues. As to the draft regulations, we are only beginning to decipher the impacts, but we think that everyone should take a look and then weigh-in during the comment period. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

More on this topic later!