New England Farmers Want Hearing on Food Safety Rules

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New England farmers who argue they will be harmed by a one-size-fits-all approach to federal agricultural policy want a chance to weigh in on proposed food safety rules.

Led by two New Hampshire Democrats — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Annie Kuster — members of Congress from each of the six New England states have written to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking for a public hearing on two proposed rules implementing the 2011 Food Safety and Modernization Act.

The law is aimed at making it easier to trace contaminated food, but New England farmers and their representatives in Congress argue that some of its provisions will impose significant regulatory and financial burdens on an important part of the region's economy.

"We recognize the FDA's desire to implement these rules expeditiously, but it is imperative that these rules reflect the needs of the many different regions throughout our nation, including New England's growing local and regional food system," the group wrote this week.

They argued that the proposed rules were based on the practices of large-scale farming operations that do not represent the majority of the 33,000 farms in New England, where the average size is 110 acres, and 65 percent have yearly sales totaling under $10,000.

"As written, this rule will be a game changer," said Jeff Holmes, president of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau. "A New England based hearing would bring much needed attention to those that are unaware of its implications or have not taken it seriously."

Twenty members of Congress signed the letter, including the entire delegations from New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

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