FOOD SAFETY REGULATIONS: SHOULD DAIRIES HAVE TO PREPARE FOR TERRORIST ATTACKS?
As WAPF members know, the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) poses many challenges for our farmers and food producers. WAPF worked with a coalition of organizations to carve out protections for direct marketing producers from the most burdensome portions of the Act through the Tester-Hagan amendment. But while the Tester-Hagan provision provides desperately needed protections, like any political solution, it does not solve all the problems.
Among other things, in FSMA, Congress directed FDA to address the issue of “food defense” against “intentional adulteration.” In plain terms, the issue is a potential terrorist attack aimed at our food supply. WAPF’s membership has diverse views on the issue of what level of risk terrorists pose in general, but there’s a question that cuts across that divide: why would our food system be a potential target?
Terrorists generally seek to cause widespread harm for the greatest effect. A small producer, selling direct to a handful of consumers, poses no real opportunity. The risk lies with huge operations that have complicated supply and distribution chains with numerous points of vulnerability and that provide food for millions of people. As with food safety, the fundamental problem is consolidation of our food system.
To its credit, FDA has at least recognized the fact that small-scale producers in general would not be terrorist targets. In proposing a rule, FDA included an exemption for facilities that gross less than ten million dollars in sales annually. Facilities above this size will have to do a food defense plan, similar to a HACCP but aimed at the specific issue of intentional adulteration rather than accidental contamination.
The problem comes when we get to the issue of dairy farms. The majority of milk in this country is produced through the co-op system, in which individual farms send their raw milk in tankers to a processing facility to be commingled for pasteurization. The processing and distribution channels are highly consolidated, so large quantities of milk from many different farms are commingled. The fluid nature of milk makes it extremely easy for contamination to be spread through this commingling. With the large number of people (especially children) who consume it, these factors make milk one of the more obvious potential targets for someone seeking to cause physical harm and/or widespread disruption in our food system.
As a result, in the proposed rule FDA excluded all farms except dairy farms. The agency specifically asked for comments on what should be required of dairy farms and whether there should be an exemption based on size, type of distribution, or other factors.
WAPF, joined by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, submitted comments to the agency. We supported the exemption for facilities under ten million dollars in sales, as well as the exemption for farms. On the issue of dairy farms, we proposed exemptions for: (1) small dairy farms (fewer than fifty milking cows); (2) mid-sized dairy farms (fewer than two hundred fifty cows) that do not commingle their milk with other farms; and (3) all sheep and goat dairy farms. We also recommended that the agency focus on education and training, rather than regulatory requirements, for any farms that are covered.
You can read our full comments at: www.farmandranchfreedom.org/organizationalcomments-fsma-intentional-adulteration.
Notably, the National Milk Producers Federation is trying to misuse this issue to attack raw dairy farmers. In its comments, the Federation proposed that farms producing milk intended for pasteurization should be exempt, regardless of their size. Yet, at the same time, the Federation claimed that even the smallest, direct-marketing raw milk farm was a “high risk,” and that the FDA should propose a rule specifically aimed at them. This makes no sense!
A ten-thousand-cow dairy supplying raw milk for pasteurization poses a far more attractive terrorist target (with many more potential points of entry) than a twenty-cow raw milk dairy that handles all its product without leaving the farm. NMPF’s comments are nothing more than an attempt to use the regulatory process to drive out producers of a niche market, an unfortunately common tactic used by large industry.
The next move will be FDA’s, meaning yet more waiting. Last December, the FDA announced that it would issue revised proposed regulations for on-farm produce safety standards, in response to the outpouring of opposition to the restrictions on compost and other issues of concern to sustainable producers. Although the agency stated that the revised rules would be published for public review and comment in the “summer of 2014,” we are still waiting for them as of the time this article goes to print. On both of these issues, we will see what FDA proposes next and stand ready to respond.
The recent solicitation by USDA for submachine guns raised concern among farmers and local food consumers. Why would an agency tasked with regulating agriculture in the U.S. need such weapons?
Disturbingly, the arming of regulatory agencies has become more and more widespread in our federal government. While the actual number of armed raids has been low, the fear and distrust that they have created in the local foods community has been widespread and damaging. For example, the 2010 raid on a local food co-op in southern California, in which the FDA participated, is still reverberating through the raw milk community.
If agency officials face a situation that truly calls for armed backup, they can go through the proper procedures to have support from the Department of Justice. Having in-house SWAT teams and armed personnel makes it too easy to turn a non-hazardous situation into an armed raid that abuses the rights of our citizens. Moreover, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to provide arms and training to each individual agency. And the bottom line is that bureaucrats aren’t hired or properly trained for dangerous law enforcement situations.
To address this problem, U.S. Representative Chris Stewart of Utah has introduced the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act, HR 4934. The bill does three things: (1) repeals the arrest and firearm authority granted to Offices of Inspectors General in the 2002 Homeland Security Act; (2) prohibits federal agencies, other than those traditionally tasked with enforcing federal law—such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals—from purchasing machine guns, grenades, and other weaponry regulated under the National Firearms Act; and (3) directs the Government Accountability Office to write a complete report detailing all federal agencies with specialized units that receive special tactical or military-style training and respond to high-risk situations that fall outside the capabilities of regular law enforcement officers.
You can follow the bill and its progress at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/ hr4934.
VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: SECRETARY’S ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON ANIMAL HEALTH
After a two-year hiatus, the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health (SACAH) reconvened this summer. While Gilles Stockton of the Western Organization of Resource Councils and I both continue to serve as voices for small-scale and independent producers, the majority of the Committee members represent the large-scale consolidated industry players.
The first topic on the agenda was Animal Identification. It’s been a year and a half since the USDA adopted its Animal Disease Traceability program, under which it required official identification and Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVIs) for all adult cattle and poultry crossing state lines.
On the poultry side, most producers still don’t even know of the new regulations because there appear to have been few attempts to implement or enforce it. I predict that this approach will continue until there is an outbreak of some kind, after which the authorities will use existing regulation to crack down on producers.
On the cattle side, the USDA sent out an email in March stating that it plans to start enforcement of the rule (see April 2014 Member newsletter). But even before then, several states had begun to enforce the requirements.
Since many states already required tagging of breeding-age cattle for inter-state transport, that aspect of the new rule appears to have been relatively innocuous. The problems have appeared with the new requirements on CVIs. In the past, while a CVI was often required for interstate transport, it did not have to have the individual animal’s ID numbers on it. Under the new ADT rule, it does. Some vets have interpreted the new requirement to mean that they must personally confirm the ID number. Under this interpretation, the producers have to confine the cows with head gates and have the vet read each and every individual tag. This can add up to hundreds of dollars in unnecessary vet fees!
At the SACAH meeting, I raised this issue and got clarification from USDA that the agency considers it sufficient for the owner to provide a list of the ID numbers to attach to the CVI, without the vet having to read the tags. (Again, remember that this only applies to adult cattle being shipped interstate to begin with.)
On the topic of CVIs, the other members of the Committee clearly want to push for an electronic system. The main burden of electronic CVIs would fall on veterinarians, who would have to be equipped with laptops for working in the field, as well as being comfortable with using an electronic system. I pointed out the problems we already face with a shortage of large animal vets, and the importance of not imposing new requirements that could drive more vets out of business.
The Committee discussed two possible resolutions on animal ID: one addressing the use of technology and the other urging the USDA to do an analysis of how animal ID did (or did not) play a role in the recent outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. I volunteered for the subcommittee that will consider these resolutions in more depth, so look for more news in the next issue of Wise Traditions.
The discussion made it clear that the big industry players still want to move to a full electronic system, including, ultimately, electronic tags on every animal. Fortunately, the USDA staff did not weigh in on the issue, appearing to be somewhat hesitant to push forward at this time, although that could change at any time. We have to stay active and involved if we want to stop the re-emergence of a program such as NAIS with incredibly burdensome and unnecessary requirements.
FOOT & MOUTH DISEASE (FMD)
The next major topic of discussion was Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD). On this issue, the USDA’s position has shifted significantly over the years. For a long time, the USDA was committed to a “stamping out” approach. In other words, if Foot & Mouth Disease were detected in an animal in the U.S., the agency planned to kill that animal, its herdmates, any animal potentially exposed, and any animal within a certain distance of the infected animal, in an effort to “stamp out” the disease.
For those who are new to this issue, it is important to realize that FMD cannot be transmitted to humans and poses no human health threat. And although it is a very serious disease in livestock, the majority of animals infected will recover on their own. The stamping out approach was driven by concerns over the export market, since many countries will not accept animals or uncooked meat from countries that have animals with FMD or even animals that have been vaccinated for FMD. In other words, if the U.S. wanted to keep many of its export markets, all the exposed and vaccinated animals would have to be killed.
But despite the importance that both the USDA and Big Ag have placed on the export market, they also now appear to be recognizing that the stamping out approach could spell disaster—not only for small producers, who have feared this approach all along, but also for the large industry players. The outbreak in South Korea in 2010 helped show that the old mentality can wreak destruction on producers of all sizes. South Korea killed hundreds of thousands of animals, causing over one billion dollars of losses in livestock, in an attempt to stamp out the disease—only to realize it was impossible and change to a “vaccinate to live” policy (see below).
USDA’s current documents outline a list of possible approaches that could be used in case of an outbreak: 1. Stamping out.
- Vaccinate to kill (i.e., vaccinate just long enough to allow for stamping out in stages).
- Vaccinate to slaughter (all vaccinated animals that were otherwise healthy would be sent for processing for food over the appropriate period of time).
- Vaccinate to live (allowing vaccinated animals to live out their normal, productive lifespans).
A combination of these approaches is also possible. The USDA states that it will choose its approach during an outbreak based on multiple factors.
At this time, the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough vaccine available to handle even a relatively moderate FMD outbreak. Issues include both funding and where to manufacture the vaccine; since the current vaccines require the live virus for production, they cannot be manufactured on the U.S. mainland. Thus, the Committee discussions focused on what is needed to make vaccination a more feasible option if needed.
Big Ag still has very different priorities than small-scale producers and animal owners. Because of the industry’s love for international trade, they are both less cautious about introducing the disease into this country (by promoting the zoning approach to allowing imports from affected countries), and much more inclined to take a vaccinate to kill or to slaughter approach (to allow exports to re-start more quickly if there is an outbreak).
As a result, if there is an FMD outbreak in this country, we will face an extraordinarily tough fight to protect valuable livestock from unnecessary death. But the shift in the industry’s position, as the key players come to recognize the extreme fragility of the system they have built and at least some of the consequences of that fact, provides an important opening for us to be involved in shaping the policies.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2014