Farm Vs. Food Facility: Which Are You?

The FDA's proposed rule change might mean your farm doesn't have to register under the impending Food Safety Modernization Act.

by Dani Yokhna

Farm Vs. Food Facility: Which Are You? - Photo by Transguyjay/Flickr ( 

As small-scale farmers have been watching the Food Safety Modernization Act coming down the pike, many—all?—have shaken their heads in frustration. More financial and physical resources will be asked of anyone who produces food for sale when FSMA goes into effect next year, and this is daunting for people already not getting rich off of farming.

To reduce some of the FSMA burden on small-scale, family farms, the Food and Drug Administration announced it might like to change the rules about who has to register as a “food facility” under the upcoming FSMA rules. From the FDA: “Under the current regulation, food facilities that manufacture/process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States must register with FDA. Notably, establishments that are ‘retail food establishments,’ farms, restaurants and certain other entities are exempt from the requirement to register.”

This “retail food establishments” phrase is key, because the FDA is proposing that it expand this definition. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition explains: “In the proposed rule, FDA makes this critical clarification by amending the definition of ‘retail food establishment’ to clarify that manufacturing and processing operations co-located on farms are exempt from registration when the majority of sales by that operation is direct to consumer, and that exemption still applies where those sales occur off-farm through a roadside stand, CSA drop-off site, farmers market or ‘other such direct-to-consumer sales platforms.’”

This is great news for the FDA-estimated 71,000 farms that mostly sell to direct to consumers. On the other hand, those farms that sell direct to consumers in these ways but also have an equal value of wholesale accounts will be at a disadvantage because they’ll still have to register, even though their businesses might not be as large as or much larger than the direct-to-consumer-only farms.

That’s Not All

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Also attached to this proposed rule are some more requirements for farms that are registering under FSMA:

  • The FDA needs an email address for each food facility’s contact person. (No big deal, unless the farmer is technology-adverse.)
  • Food facilities must renew registration every two years.
  • Food-facility registrants must ensure the FDA will be permitted to inspect the facility. (So, this makes sense because if a farm is following FSMA regulations, there’s nothing to hide. But then there’s the idea that having government officials hanging out on the farm isn’t usually a good thing. President Ronald Reagan’s phrase, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” comes to mind.)

Your Thoughts

This proposed rule change will affect different farmers in different ways. Do you think this is a constructive change to the FSMA rules, or do you think this will shift FSMA burden unfairly? Don’t tell me, tell the FDA! The FDA is accepting comments—yes, from you!—through June 8, 2015.

Like I keep telling you, commenting on proposed rules is really easy! Here are the four steps:

  1. Go online.
  2. Enter your comment, keeping in mind some common-sense guidelines for public-comment submission.
  3. Review your comment.
  4. Hit “Submit.”

You have until June 8, 2015, to let the FDA know how this proposed FSMA rule change will impact your farm.

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