Stay little or get regulated; small farmers get some protection

Small farmers fighting against being lumped with large agribusinesses in a federal food-safety act have received a measure of possible protection.

At the behest of small farmers, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan D-N.C., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., pushed through a provision to exempt small farms from new reporting requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last month, commissioners in Jackson and Haywood counties joined their counterparts in Macon County in requesting the protection. The distinction between big and small will be those farmers making less than $500,000 in gross income and who sell directly to consumers.

This includes sales made at farmers markets, community-supported agriculture drop-sites, roadside stands and other similar direct-market venues.

“Everyone agrees we must overhaul our food-safety system,” Hagan said, “as millions of people have become sick from foodborne illnesses. But unfortunately, this bill threatens the ability of small producers … to stay in business.”

Hagan noted more than 3,700 farmers in North Carolina sell directly to consumers, generating $29 million in economic activity through sales at 200 farmers markets and more than 100 community-supported agriculture organizations.

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