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Farmers Question Need for New Rules

Farmers Question Need for New Rules

Sue Stock | The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

RALEIGH – Farmers from across the state are worried that potential food-safety legislation could hurt their livelihoods and forever change the way they operate.

A meeting Monday at the State Fairgrounds brought together farmers, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, plus state agriculture officials.

It was one of several “listening sessions” planned by the FDA to solicit input on how new guidelines regarding the safety of agricultural produce in America should be written.

A panel of six farmers took turns telling the officials about their concerns, which stem from a new food-safety bill that has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate.

Despite the state’s shift to technology and science, farming is still a major industry in the state, with sales of crops totaling more than $2.9 billion in 2007.

Among the top concerns for many farmers: a fear that sweeping legislation would be a hurried response to recent high-publicity food-safety scares such as the ones involving fresh spinach and peppers.

The farmers said they were concerned laws that are too stringent would make it difficult for them to continue to operate, either because complying would cost too much money or take too much time.

“You should not prevent new farmers from wanting to enter the market,” said John Vollmer, whose family operates the Vollmer Farm in Franklin County. “When Farmer John croaks, who’s going to take it on? I hope [complying with the new rules] won’t be such a mountain that my son and daughter-in-law won’t want to take it on.”

Other concerns on the list for farmers: improving the methods used to trace food back to its source, water quality standards and rules regarding the proximity produce can have to animals or livestock on the farm.

“We paid attention long before someone forced us into it,” said Philip Barker, who works with the Operation Spring Plant Cooperative in Sampson County, a group that works to train and assist minority farmers. “Cumbersome rules that don’t serve basic purposes will basically put us off the farm.”

Many wanted assurance that any new rules and regulations would not be redundant with those already in place.