Environment
6:00 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Could New Food Safety Rules Crush Small Farmers?

Kristin Krokowski's family grows more than 50 varieties of vegetables on their 40-acre farm.

The United States has not revised its food safety laws in more than 70 years. Change is coming – in the form of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Many local growers fear its impact.

In recent times, there have been concerning cases of food borne illnesses and recalls for products – ranging from peanut butter and spinach to eggs. Congress has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to review and update the rules; but specified that the revised law should not undermine local food systems.

Wisconsin is home to 1,400 small market growers.

Kristin Krokowski, of Waukesha County, has local food production on her mind A LOT. Professionally – she helped create a statewide farmers market association through her job with the UW Extension. Personally – she married a farmer.

The Krokowkis grow more than 50 kinds of vegetables on forty acres in Waukesha County. They sell at a roadside stand and five farmers markets. A few years ago, Krokowski and her husband built their own greenhouses – three of them – to kick start their growing season and save money.

Krokowski says the proposed food safety rules lump together industrial farms and small producers – opening them to layers of fees and certifications they don’t now need.

GAP, Good Agricultural Practices, includes a keep wildlife off of your fields rule. “They want you to fence your entire property and walk that fence line twice a week – that’s a lot of time. There’s also expectations for water testing.”

Krokowski says if farms draw irrigation water from streams or ponds, rather than groundwater, you’re supposed to have regular testing of your water, which can run into hundreds of dollars a year.

“My husband works 100 hours a week - probably makes about $5 to $6 an hour in a good year. He could go to McDonald’s and work for 40 hours and earn more than he does here. I mean, he loves to farm, it’s part of who he is and it’s just ingrained in him, but if you start looking at it practically, it’s just kind of crazy.”

Krokowski says she doesn’t know of any cases of food-borne illnesses linked to small fresh market producers. Yet, she believes they want to make certain their products remain safe. “So what I think we really need to do is think about small farms, where are the areas of risk, can we mitigate those risks without going into regulation.”

She’s about to test her theory on a group of small growers. Krokowski explains, “I just got a grant from the USDA, so we’re going to have a gentleman come in who is a fresh market grower who is certified and he’s going to talk about the areas ....that are the highest risk and what they can do in a simple, efficient way."

The proposed food safety rules are up for public comment until 10:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22.