WFA's Full Comments to the FDA on What Should Be Included in Food Safety
Produce Standards Here
To see two other sets of excellent comments,download:
Community Alliance with Family Farmers' comments
Nature Conservancy's comments
Wild Farm Alliance's Position
WFA encourages FDA to create risk management assessment standards that
allow for the co-management of food safety and conservation. Wildlife
and their habitat are a low food safety risk (see
appendix I). Moreover, the conservation and restoration of grasses
and wetlands that filter E. coli pathogens, and the promotion
of diverse soil microorganisms that are antagonistic to these pathogens,
increase the safety of food. By building co-management into the produce
standards, FDA will not create conflicts with the Endangered Species Act,
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Federal and State water quality mandates, the
National Organic Program rule, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS) that provides over $4 billion each year for Farm Bill programs.
Standards Must Interface Well with the National Organic Program
The NOP requires that organic farm production practices maintain or improve
the natural resources of the operation, including soil, water, wetlands,
woodlands and wildlife. The definition of organic farming is a production
system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating
cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling
of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
In addition, organic farmers can not be expected to decrease biological
diversity because they rely on it to help them grow their crops. By installing
native plants that support natural enemy insects, they manage pest insect
outbreaks. Hedgerows and natural riparian areas also support pollinators
at a time when US farms are experiencing a pollination crisis. The more
farmers can do to provide a diverse diet of pollen and nectar, the better
the health and survival of honeybee and wild pollinators will be. Organic
farmers depend on bird and bat boxes and raptor roosts that encouraged
predatory birds and bats to help keep pest insect and rodent populations
What often gets overlooked, is that the soil on organic farms is alive,
diverse and resilient. Farmers feed the soil with cover crops and compost,
and do not hamper the survival of beneficial microorganisms by using acidic
fertilizers or toxic fumigants. This is important for food safety considerations
since research shows E. coli pathogens decline more rapidly in
soils with a large diversity microorganisms rather than in sterile soils,
and this is due to antagonistic interactions with indigenous life in the
soil. FDA should ensure that organic farmers are allowed to co-manage
the ecological services nature provides with food safety standards at
the same time that they are complying with the NOP.
Standards Must Incorporate Endangered Species Act, Migratory
Bird Treaty Act and Federal and State Water Quality Mandates
WFA is located near the Salinas Valley of California and has seen first
hand how native habitat was removed because of misguided food safety requirements.
Over a mile of riparian trees and shrubs, one hundred feet wide, was bulldozed
along the Salinas River (see: www.wildfarmalliance.org/Press Room/press_room_destruction.htm)
in 2008. Because more than 2/3 of the federally-listed rare species are
found on private land, private property is very important in the management
and conservation of habitat for fish, wildlife and plants. Riparian areas
are critical to the movement of migratory birds. While most farmers consider
themselves good stewards of the land, Salinas Valley farmers under great
pressure from food safety auditors and their buyers reported in a survey
that they had adopted measures to actively deter or eliminate wildlife
on huge acreages (bare ground buffers were used on about 92,000 acres,
trapping on 87,000 acres, poisoned bait stations on 108,000 acres, and
fencing on 66,000 acres). FDA should be careful not to forces farmers
to make decisions between complying with food safety rules and illegally
taking out habitat.
Clean water helps to support rare species, and human uses. Water quality
protections are mandated by the Clean Water Act, and in California, farmers
are specifically required to address runoff by the State Water Resources
Control Board. Conservation practices typically used for water quality
benefits include grassing ditches, using native shrubs and trees along
waterways to stabilize soils, and installing sediment basins to capture
runoff before it leaves the field. Food safety auditors pressured Salinas
Valley farmers to remove conservation practices for water quality/wildlife
habitat on 30,000 acres, and we don’t want to see this happen nationwide.
Food safety produce standards should not trump the Clean Water Act,
a state’s farm water quality regulations, or the Endangered Species
As shown in the above survey, food safety auditors are known to broadly
target all wildlife and their habitat, without without scientific justification
or understanding the co-benefits of conservation practices with regard
to food safety and the environment. Unlike California pest control advisors
who work with farmers, they are not certified. Food safety auditors should
be certified so that they do not require farmers to make costly and environmental
damaging mistakes, and so they uniformly address the same issues. A program
could be modeled after California’s Pest Control Advisor License
(www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/license/adviser.htm). FDA should require all
food safety auditors to be certified, and to take continuing education
classes that keep them abreast of new information. Part of the educational
program should teach about agricultural natural resource protections that
reduce the incidence of pathogens, and the multiple other benefits to
having conservation practices.
Standards Must Accommodate Natural Resource Conservation Efforts
We run the risk of reaching for an unattainable and indeed risky “sterile”
growing environment for the nation’s food crops, at great cost to
farmers, consumers, and wildlife. We could instead build upon conservation
practices already underway on many farms to enhance the effective ecosystem
services provided by a healthy growing environment while ensuring the
safe growing of food. Grass and wetlands are known to filter out 70-99%
of E. coli so that it does not spread throughout the landscape.
Larger vegetation, such as hedgerows and windbreaks, filter dust and since
E. coli O157 can be carried on dust, they too serve to reduce pathogen
transfer. The billions of dollars spent by USDA NRCS’s and others’
on farm conservation should augment FDA standards, not be at odds with
WFA recommends that FDA use the guidance from the Association of Food
and Drug Officials’ (AFDO) code on animal presence in order to determine
how best to address the conflicts of conservation and food safety (see:
www.afdo.org). The question of whether animals are present or not is at
the heart of the conflict. By using AFDO’s common sense code, which
is not overly prescriptive, site-specific conditions can be addressed
through a risk assessment strategy. The code states:
"The responsible party shall assess the impact of domestic and
wild animal activity on potential for pathogen contamination of produce,
considering the crop characteristics, type and number of animals, pathogens
of concern, nearness to the growing field, proximity to harvest, and
other relevant factors."
One more factor should be added to this list: conservation practices
used to reduce indirect spread of pathogens.
FDA should take this nuanced approach of using the AFDO code that allows
for the diversity of farm situations and animal presence around the country.
The following examines how a farmer can use a decision-tree approach
with the AFDO code to deal with relevant issues of their operation while
producing safe food.
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Crop Characteristics
• Does the crop have a kill step, such as cooking?
--- If so, animal presence is not a risk.
• Is the raw eaten crop field packed, or is it rinsed with water
before it is packed?
--- If field packed, it has less of a risk of spreading contamination
than if water is used.
--- If crop is rinsed, consider planting in an area of reduced risk or
use hedgerows and windbreaks to buffer against neighboring uses.
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Type of Animals and
Pathogens of Concern
• Are cattle present? (Cattle are considered high-risk species because
of their high probability to carry E. coli pathogens).
--- If so, are adequate fences present to keep animals out of growing
areas; is a grassed buffer needed between the livestock and the produce
operations; or is a ditch required to divert runoff from livestock to
• Are animals present that serve as E. coli or Salmonella
pathogen vectors between contaminated areas created by human activity
and the farm (including but not limited to non-field rodents, feral pigsand
some birds)? Potential sources of contamination include use of untreated
or improperly treated manure; large concentrated animal operations; nearby
waste disposal areas, and heavily grazed areas.
--- If so, either discourage animals, grow a crop with a kill step, or
do not grow raw eaten produce near a polluted area.
• Are native wildlife species present?
--- If so, they are a low risk. (Limited studies have shown that the majority
of native wildlife populations have a low probability of carrying of E.
coli and Salmonella pathogens – zero to less than
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Number of Animals
Is there unusually heavy wildlife activity in the field?
--- If so, are any of the following steps taken to reduce their numbers?
------ * Animals are discouraged with motion sensors, loud noises, etc.
------ * Animals are attracted to other areas with food, water, etc.
------ * If fencing is used, it only encloses the growing fields, not
the whole farm, so that wildlife can still move through the landscape.
------ * If poison is used as a last resort, it does not accumulate in
the animal causing a secondary kill, and it is not placed near a waterway
where it can cause pollution.
• Is there unusually heavy non-native feral pig activity in the
--- If so, consider hunting to reduce their numbers?
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Proximity to Harvest
• Was the field flooded exposing it to pathogens from high-risk
animals, or was it grazed before the crop was planted?
--- If so, has the field been properly tilled to incorporate any pathogens
present and has an adequate time period occurred to inactivate them since
the ground was tilled before planting?
• Have any animal tracks or feces been found since the crop was
--- If so, has it been determined where the tracks lead, and if feces
are found, has the crop been flagged for not harvesting in and around
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Nearness to The Growing
• Do animals pass through a polluted area as described above before
arriving at a produce field being harvested for raw consumption?
--- If so, see discussions above about reducing animal numbers
• Do native wildlife pass through conservation plantings, riparian
zones or other wildlife habitats?
--- If so, they pose a low risk.
Impact of Animal Presence When Considering Conservation Practices
Used to Reduce Indirect Spread Of Pathogens
• Are conservation practices funded by the Farm Bill, such as vegetative
buffer strips, grasses, and wetlands, used to help filter out contamination
in overland water flows from pastures, livestock feedlots, and manure
• Are hedgerows and windbreaks used to block pathogen-laden dust
coming from roads, and animal loafing areas, compost operations?
Standards Must Be Able to Accommodate All Farm Sizes and Crop
FDA should take into consideration the fact that small farms are more
constrained on their land options. Requiring any buffer zone between crops
and natural areas would force farmers to take out habitat, some of which
could be supporting rare species and important ecological functions. Overly
large sterile buffer zones near other areas, such as grazing, compost
facilities, and structures, could make small farmers reduce their production
acreage so much so that it puts them out of business. Large farmers on
the other hand could decide to grow something else near those areas, since
they have many parcels to choose from. Instead, FDA should require
hedgerows or windbreaks be planted in lieu of large bare ground buffers,
FDA should create general standards that work for multiple crops grown
in the same location so that farmers producing a diversity of crops do
not have to fill out separate forms. For instance, farmers growing unprocessed
leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons should not have to fill out and comply
with FDA’s guidance documents on these crops. Since it is very likely
that FDA will create new guidances for other crops as well, the paperwork
burden would be untenable for small farmers. While these guidances are
just that and not standards, they are required de facto since proactive
farmers will feel forced to fill out the paperwork in case they ever have
a food safety incident and end up in court. FDA should not hamper a farmer’s
ability to spread her/his financial risk by growing more than just a single
crop, or make their marketing more difficult. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”
campaigns around the country are encouraging consumers to eat lots of
fresh produce and shop at farmers’ markets and local stores. Small
farmers often sell a diversity of crops through these channels because
they can optimize sales by selling small amount of many types of produce.
Growing multiple crops also allows for crop rotation, which ensures that
the soil is not overly depleted of certain nutrients, and also reduces
the potential for insect buildup. As a result, there is less need for
fertilizers and pesticides, and healthier food is produced. FDA should
create general standards for a diversity of crops grown in the same location.
Standards Must Address Industrial
Leafy Green Harvesting and Processing Issues
More surfaces for microbial invasion
are present in pre-cut and pre-chopped leafy greens than in bunched spinach,
or whole lettuce heads. Since salad mix, baby spinach, and large portions
of iceberg lettuce are bagged, an ideal environment exists for pathogens
to grow. According to Community Alliance for Family Farmers’ analysis
of data, between 1999 and 2008, all of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks
related to spinach and lettuce that created serious illness were linked
to fresh-cut products in sealed bags. The processing system should remove
pathogens, not spread them. A greater risk occurs in the processing plant
than on the farm. In addition, industrially mowing leafy greens from the
ground endangers nearby frogs that may stray from their habitat. The large
salad mower itself is not hygienic; when in operation it builds up a slime
similar to the bottom of a lawn mower. The system of harvesting needs
to be redesigned to quickly find and avoid frogs, and to prevent the buildup
of slimy residues on the salad mower. Volume also matters. The output
of 26 million servings of leafy greens every week from a large processing
plant, like the one that caused the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated
spinach to affect consumers in 28 states, is far riskier than a small
farm processing operation. As well, shelf life should be based on safety,
not profitability. Decreasing shelf life for bagged products, that now
stretch to as much as 17 days, would not only cut down on the opportunities
for pathogens to grow but also cut down on nutritional losses. FDA
should focus its efforts mainly on large processors, not the farm, require
leafy green harvesters to be redesigned, and shorten the allowed shelf
life for perishable leafy greens.
Standards Must Be Flexible
FDA should build a program that can accommodate new information as
research studies enlighten us how food can be more safely grown.