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Some small farms exempted


A controversial amendment to the federal Food Safety Modernization Act excludes small farms from having to meet new produce regulations.


Introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., the amendment applies to farms that make less than $500,000 per year and sell more than 50 percent of their products directly to consumers in the same state and within a 400-mile radius. It also covers all operations listed by the FDA as "very small businesses."


Qualifying small farms would have to provide documentation of compliance with state regulations.


Richard Johnson, owner of Grove City Gardens in Blackfoot, Idaho, considers the amendment to be crucial to preserving the bottom lines of small farms such as his.


"These small producers that are exempt, there's a reason for that. We don't have the wherewithal," said Johnson, who sells more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables through his farm store and local farmers' markets.


Johnson emphasized produce from small growers is easy to trace and doesn't spend much time in transit. Furthermore, he believes small producers can keep a closer eye on their operations.


"These large producers, there's so much volume and things happen so fast that who is ultimately responsible for it?" Johnson said.


Officials representing many of the largest producers don't see the logic of the exemption.


"We understand reasons people might want to give small farms a break, but we think any exclusion -- if this is a product that gets into commerce and the marketplace -- is a bad idea," said Ray Gilmer, vice president for communications with United Fresh Produce Association. "It poses a food safety risk just as much as if (produce) comes from a large farm."


-- John O'Connell



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