Food Safety Modernization Act Rules and the Milk Cliff

1/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Lorraine Merrill New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner

Agriculture made headlines last week.

Congress acted on New Year’s Day to avert the fiscal cliff and extend the 2008 Farm Bill — or at least parts of it — for nine months. Many in agriculture were disappointed that the 2012 Farm Bill was never brought to a vote in the House (the Senate passed its version months ago), but the extension’s half-a-loaf was better than no loaf for New Hampshire farmers and residents.

Of particular importance to New Hampshire and the Northeast region are extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, several key conservation programs, and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program — although details and funding levels remain uncertain.

Dairy policy became a focus of media hype, with news reports leading off with talk of the “milk cliff” and fears that milk prices could more than double if Congress did not act by Jan. 1.

John Porter, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension professor and dairy specialist emeritus, penned an op-ed which was published in the Concord Monitor, putting all this alarming talk of higher milk prices in perspective. We reprint it with permission. (See A5.)

Congress did address dairy policy in the stop-gap extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which was part of the temporary fiscal cliff fix.

Extension of the MILC program is good news for New Hampshire’s dairy farmers, especially because the feed cost adjuster and other factors were restored to pre-September levels. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, those formulas were reduced as of Sept. 1, 2012, to levels rendering the program virtually useless.

It is uncertain whether MILC payments will be made for the period through September 2013. It is a safety net program, designed to make payments when margins between the farm price for milk and feed costs reach a certain trigger.

New Hampshire Farm Service Agency State Director Jay Phinizy said, “If and when there are payments to be made, you can bet NH/FSA will be ready to get them out as quickly as they have in the past.”

He advises that it would help FSA county office staff if dairy farmers would check in with their FSA county office to make sure their records are current.

Food Safety Standards

Last Friday the FDA released the long-awaited proposed rules for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was passed amid considerable controversy and signed into law exactly two years ago. FDA is keeping the proposed rule open for public comment for 120 days.

The proposed rule would not apply to farms that averaged $25,000 or less in annual food sales during the previous three-year period. FDA state that these smaller farms are and will continue to be covered under the adulteration and other applicable provisions of the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act, even if exempt from FSMA.

FDA said FSMA requires certain farms to be exempt from most requirements of the proposed rule, but these farms would be subject to “modified requirements,” and this qualified exemption could be withdrawn under certain circumstances.

Farms qualifying for exemption are those that during the preceding three-year period had annual food sales of less than $500,000 — and sold more food in average annual value directly to qualified end-users than the average annual value of food sold to all other buyers.

“Qualified end-user” is defined as the consumer of the food; or a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located in the same state as the farm, or no more than 275 miles from the farm.

For more information, visit the FSMA website at Click on “top links” to learn how to submit comments.

Lorraine Merrill is New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food.

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