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January 2013 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

FDA – Coming To A Farm Near You

Jan 24, 2013

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block.
Just last week, marking the second anniversary of Congress’s passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA proposed comprehensive regulations for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce. FDA acknowledged this is the first effort by the agency to regulate the produce farming community. While not the first time FDA has been on the farm, the FSMA proposal represents the agency’s most ambitious and comprehensive effort to regulate the safety of farm produce.
The proposed rule covers only biological hazards – for example, pathogens. Chemical hazards will remain under the jurisdiction of EPA.
Not all produce will be covered. Produce not customarily eaten raw – for example, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes or frozen foods – and produce customarily sent for commercial processing, which would include canning, are exempt.
  • Grains are also exempt.
  • Sprouts are covered and subject to special production, testing, and recordkeeping requirements.
Significant new requirements imposed by the proposed FDA regulations include:
1. Water sources would have to be tested periodically for pathogens, including listeria, salmonella, and E. coli O157:H7.
2. Covered farms would be required to "monitor" for wild animal intrusions and not harvest in areas of the farm where there is evidence of such activity.
3. Workers suffering from contagious diseases would be excluded from field or handling work.
4. Farmers would be required to provide training to all workers, including seasonal workers, on principles of food safety, the importance of personal hygiene, and the requirements of FDA’s produce safety rule. Each farm would be required to have a supervisor who has received FDA-recognized (certified) training.
5. There are specific requirements for equipment, tools, and buildings as well as record creation and record access provisions.
While clearly well-intended, FDA’s proposal could be a costly nightmare for covered farming operations. The "wild animal contamination" and "employee training requirements" will be quite difficult to implement, and costly. Many older or smaller farms will need to retrofit their operations to comply with the building, equipment, and tool requirements.
Another rule covering animal feed is expected soon.
The public is given 120 days – until mid-May – to comment. Farmers and farm groups should educate themselves on this proposal and make sure FDA hears from them before it’s too late.
Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block in Washington.

More Cliffs Ahead

Jan 11, 2013

It’s a new year with some new challenges, but many of the old challenges are still with us.

We have a farm bill extension to carry us through this year. Milk prices won’t double. It looks like all the work the ag committees did last year to try and get a bill was wasted. They will be starting all over again. There will be cuts in money allotted for agriculture – maybe 25 to 35 billion dollars – maybe more. Don’t expect the farm bill to be completed before next fall. There are more cliffs ahead.

The first challenge will be the debt limit, which we have already technically surpassed -- $16.4 trillion. Either the government shuts down or the Congress passes legislation to allow the government to borrow more money. If we don’t get the money, we can’t pay our bills. Our credit goes in the tank. Our creditors could stop lending us money or certainly charge a higher interest rate. As farmers, we understand this. You can’t keep borrowing 40 cents of every dollar you spend. At some point, your bank will close the door. So, here we are with Republicans insisting on serious spending cuts in exchange for a vote to raise the borrowing limit. The "game of chicken" begins again.

The second cliff is also coming up March 1. The White House and the Congress agreed to cut $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years back in August 2011. After 17 months, nothing has been cut. Now on March 1, the cuts will be automatic, across the board, equally divided between defense and non-defense spending.

I know the military hawks are wringing their hands warning about defense disaster. The liberals can’t stand to see any cuts in program spending. I say – "Let the meat ax fall." We need to get serious about reducing our spending.

We can only hope that the new Congress with President Obama in his second term will be more responsible than in the past. Maybe the Senate will write a budget -- something they have not done in almost 4 years. The House has written one each year. Maybe the Congress will appropriate money for the different departments on a timely basis -- something they have not been doing. The government has been operating on a continuing resolution. The current resolution will run out at the end of March if something is not done.

Stay tuned. This circus just goes on and on.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to


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