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MN2020 - Economic Growth Through Food Safety Regulations
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Economic Growth Through Food Safety Regulations

December 28, 2010 By Mina Bakhtiar, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Minnesota’s agriculture and food industry will go through a series of notable changes now that landmark food safety legislation (S. 501) has passed. The legislation will not only grant the Food and Drug Administration greater power, but will also affect how Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture conducts food inspections.

While the law exempts most small-scale farmers from new food safety requirements, large farmers and food manufacturers will be required to invest in more stringent regulation of growing and processing.

The legislation ultimately will have far reaching and long lasting impacts on Minnesota’s public health and economy.

The Food Safety bill expands the Food and Drug Administration's power nationwide. Under the new legislation, the FDA would be able to recall suspected contaminated food, increase the number of inspections for food facilities, and standardize collection of food production information. These measures will make it easier for the FDA to trace contaminated food back to its source and for it to recall contaminated food in a timely and consistent manner.

Minnesota farmers and food manufacturers will be held more accountable for their practices, and the Department of Agriculture will be required to change the way it conducts inspections, says Ben Miller, with the department's food and dairy inspection division

Miller explained that the vast majority of manufacturers in Minnesota fall in the category of “large producers” (those making more than $500,000 in annual sales). Still, the state has a significant number of “small food producers” (those making less than half a million in yearly sales), according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website. Most of which would be exempt from many of the new inspection and information requirements.

In Minnesota, the small farmers’ exemption does not necessarily pose an immediate threat to public health. Consider that many sell their goods to larger manufacturers, who will fall under the tighter regulations.

This will indirectly put an onus on small farmers to insure a safe product. The new law gives the Department of Agriculture a means by which it can still trace contamination back to these small businesses. Furthermore, as Miller stated, most farms in Minnesota grow commercial produce used for animal feed, this typically poses less immediate public health risks. However, it could have consequences on the health of livestock.

Also, we must consider direct sales to the public. Specifically, farmers who engage in community supported agriculture (CSA) farming, or who sell their products at local farmers markets may present a health risk to people who regularly buy their products.

However, it is important to remember that small CSA and organic farmers are typically the ones who do not engage in industrial agricultural practices that allow for environmental degradation and the spread of pathogens (such as excessive pesticide use). It is therefore far less likely that the small number of farmers who fall into this category create a real public health risk in Minnesota.

Economically, the new food safety regulations can be seen as a good thing for Minnesota, especially as it exports food products to other states. The more stringent guidelines on universal collection of information will create greater accountability in tracing contamination, explains Miller with the state Department of Ag.

New safety regulations offer an opportunity for Minnesota’s food industry to become more credible and have greater accountability. Most of the food recalls listed on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website concern the interstate food trade, and it is essential that Minnesota establishes credibility in this area in order to keep our food economy running.

“Multistate outbreaks are occurring at a national level, and there’s been difficulty defining where that product comes from,” explains Miller. “Producers [will] have to maintain additional information in the case of a recall or outbreak.”

Strict record keeping and inspection guidelines will serve to prevent multistate outbreaks that can be traced to Minnesota, creating more consumer confidence and ultimately a positive economic impact as fewer violations and recalls result in fewer shutdowns.

Minnesota’s food industry should experience positive public health and economic impacts. The large number of small farmers in Minnesota will be encouraged to keep better tabs on their food production, as many of them are connected to large manufacturers. Better guidelines will ensure better public health and fewer recalls.

Finally, the FDA’s expanded authority indicates additional partnerships with the Department of Agriculture. Miller stated that the MN/DOA has previously partnered with the FDA on a fee-per-inspection basis. The new law may permit closer collaboration, especially since the state department of agriculture is expected to see an additional $1.4 billion dollars to help with compliance.
 

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