Small farmers everywhere will be impacted by Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules. In a recent webinar, Lori Babcock, co-owner of Tieton Farm & Creamery in Tieton, WA described the devastating impact of large Food & Drug Administration (FDA) fees and FSMA recordkeeping burdens on her livestock farms and dairy. She shared her concerns in a webinar called “FSMA - Its Impact on Artisan Cheesemakers” hosted by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Office of Compliance & Outreach in mid-September.
Cheesemaking is an ancient craft. Microbes work their magic on milk and basic ingredient creating a variety of tasty, nutritious cheeses. European cheesemakers can use and reuse wicker baskets and boards to make their aged cheeses. In America, we have to compete with those products while our rules require stainless steel and plastic containers.
Recent studies have concluded that diverse microbial activity in the gut increases human health. Different microbes used to make cheese affect its flavor as do the animal’s breed, forage, minerals and water.
Large commercial operations use modern equipment and steel tanks to comply with sanitation and food safety rules. “Their products may be safe, but their cheese doesn’t taste like anything,” said Babcock.
FSMA shifts the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) focus from reactive to preventive action.
Prevention sounds great, but…
Small farmers like Babcock already understand food safety. If a customer ever got sick from Tieton Farm & Creamery products, Babcock would be devastated. Each product that leaves the farm is a reflection on Lori and her staff.
Small farmers are different from medium and large commercial producers in more ways than scale. “Small farms like our have the same high standards for cleanliness,” said Babcock.
Safety begins in the field
Great cheese comes from healthy animals. Babcock checks each animal daily whether rotating fences or during milking. If an animal exhibits any sign of illness, it is immediately isolated for treatment.
Tieton Farm & Creamery animals graze on chemical-free pastures and are never treated with pesticides. Farm water is clean and safe from a pristine mountain stream
Like any food processing, cheesemaking involves washing equipment. “If you want to make cheese, you must love washing lots of things, lots of times,” said Babcock.
FSMA shifts the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) from reactive to preventive action. “Significant changes in the amount required documentation will add hours to already long farm days,” said Babcock.
FDA (Re)inspection rates are set at $237 per hour. Babcock said, “I wish I could get someone to pay me $237 per hour for my work. Those fees will put some small farmers out of business.”
Babcock continued, “We would rather invest in product safety training, equipment and practices. We do not want anyone getting sick from our products.”
Babcock wishes training for Food Safety Managers will include microbiology – the risks and opportunities in cheesemaking.
Take Action – Send in Comments
Your feedback can help change the proposed regulations. Babcock urged everyone to learn about FSMA and submit comments before November 16, 2013. Tell the USDA and FDA you want small farms to keep making healthy products in sustainable way. Do not let them add further burdens to our already stressed food system. Farmers work hard every day, most for low pay. Help the FDA understand the proposed financial burdens will be insurmountable for many small farm businesses. Please help small family farms stay in business.
Learn more about FSMA and how it could affect farmers at sustainableagriculture.net/fsma.
Tieton Farm & Creamery is a 21-acres diversified farm with goats and sheep. Livestock are rotational grazed. Cheese is made in small batches with the farm’s fresh milk. Nubian goats and Katahdin sheep are selected for their high-butterfat milk, yielding rich, creamy cheeses.
Berkshire Pigs enjoy whey from the cheese process so nothing is wasted at this sustainable, chemical-free farm. The farm also raises grass-fed and grass-finished cattle and pastured, free-range chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. As with the goats and sheep, breeds are selected for the quality of their products rather than production quantity.
Learn more about the farm here or their Facebook page. For creamery questions, email Lori. For farm questions, email Ruth. Please call (509) 406-3344 for an appointment before you visit the farm at Tieton Farm & Creamery, 18796 Summitview Road, Tieton, WA 98947.
View the one-hour, FSMA webinar and find links for dozens of other informative agricultural webinars here.
A similar story ran in the November 4, 2013 New England edition of Country Folks.