The Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of implementing new safety rules for fresh produce and the agency wants to hear from the people who will be impacted by those rules.
Thursday, during the FDA's nationwide listening tour stop at Plainville Farm, both the group and local farmers said Massachusetts poses some unique challenges.
"We just want to make sure they are sensible regulations," said Linda Kingsley, who owns Twin Oaks Farm in town. "One size does not fit all."
Kingsley was one of the dozens on hand to hear from the FDA. She said New England farms differ from other parts of the country, especially in land size.
"We're not like the mega-farms," Kingsley stated. "Our food is safe. We do a good job."
Congress enacted the new food safety law in 2011, which followed the FDA's findings that showed from 1996 to 2010, there were 131 outbreaks due to contaminated produce nationwide.
The agency said those outbreaks caused over 14,000 illnesses and 34 deaths.
Michael Taylor, the FDA deputy commissioner, said he understands that those numbers do not necessarily reflect Massachusetts produce.
"Different issues arise in different regions," said Taylor. "The uniqueness of agriculture in New England is that it tends to be smaller growers, very local-oriented food systems, direct relations between growers and consumers. That's important and that's valuable."
Also valuable is time. The local farmers are worried the new regulations, which will address irrigation, farm worker hygiene, equipment and many other topics, will be redundant and look a lot like rules that are already in place.
"We want to learn exactly where people are and learn how we can have this be as streamlined and as efficient as possible, to achieve the food safety goal," Taylor stated. "And be very workable for the farmers."
While Kingsley said she is not opposed to new regulations, she said the government needs to be very careful as it moves forward.
"If we make regulations to the point where they don't work, you're not going to have another generation of farmers," said Kingsley. "We're going to start dismantling the small family farm. We can't have that."
The FDA said the listening tour will wrap up later this year, but the rules will not go into effect until 2015.
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