BOISE — The House Agricultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously Jan. 30 to approve a joint memorial that asks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to drop or significantly alter its proposed produce safety rule.
The memorial, which still has to be approved by the full House and Senate, lacks the force of law but is a statement to the federal government regarding the FDA’s proposed rule, which would impose strict water quality standards on irrigation water used to grow fresh produce.
Many farm groups in the Pacific Northwest have told the FDA that surface irrigation water in this region could not meet the standards, which include limits on how much generic E. coli can be present in agricultural water.
Rep. Thomas Dayley, R-Boise, who introduced the memorial to fellow members of the committee, said producers would be required to test their water weekly during growing season and the standards would cost about $30,000 for each farm.
He said virtually no agricultural water distribution systems in eastern Oregon and Idaho can satisfy the E. coli standard and that if even one sample fails, a farmers’ only option would be to stop using the water or find another water source, which is not much of an option in this region.
The rule allows for farmers to treat the water with chemicals but no Environmental Protection Agency registration process for chemical treatment of irrigation water currently exists.
“In essence, it would force them to abandon their crops,” Dayley said, adding that the rule, if implemented as currently proposed, would “basically devastate (the region’s) onion crop.”
The joint memorial asks the FDA to ditch the proposed produce rule or at least change it sufficiently to eliminate any numerical standards for E. coli.
Nine of the committee’s 14 members are farmers or ranchers.
Republican Rep. Steven Miller, a farmer and rancher from Fairfield, said he was particularly concerned about the impact the water testing requirements would have on small producers, such as organic growers and farmers who grow vegetables for farmers’ markets.
“Just the (cost of) testing alone for small producers becomes uneconomical,” he said.