New food safety law could hurt Iowa fruit farmers, consumers - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New food safety law could hurt Iowa fruit farmers, consumers

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MARION (KWWL) -

New food safety rules could soon impact fruit farmers nationwide.  

The Food & Drug Administration is set to start implementing the rules, which were included in the 20-10 food safety modernization act.  The law is in response to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, including salmonella in cantaloupes that killed three people.

Apple growers probably have the most reason to be concerned about these new food safety regulations.  Growers subject to the new rules could be forced to do things like test irrigation water, and sanitize canvas fruit-picking bags.  Many of Iowa's smaller apple orchards might be exempt from the rules, but worry about the impact to the industry, and consumers.

Trees at Allen's Orchard in Marion don't look like they're thriving, but many of the trees in this orchard are just about to bud.  It's just the right stage for fruit trees in mid-April, unlike last year when many of the trees were already in full bloom, and those blooms were then lost in a hard spring freeze.

"This is about the time last year we're like, 'Oh man.   We're done for,'" said Chris Gensick with Allen's Orchard.

So he's optimistic for a much better crop this year, barring a continued drought.  But apple farmers like Gensick are now nervous about a wave of new food safety regulations that could seriously impact their bottom line.  The frustration---apples have not been the source of recent food borne illness outbreaks.

"There's not a lot of apple recalls.   We like to think we have a relatively safe product.   It's healthy.   It's natural, and the last thing we need to do is start washing our canvas picking bags in between apple flavors.   It's a little ridiculous," said greensick.

Some smaller apple orchards might be exempt from the new regulations if they have sales less than $25,000 or sell primarily to customers in one region.  But for those who are forced to comply, there could be a devastating impact, and not just to fruit farmers.

"It's going to be more cost passed to the consumers, more cost to the apple farmers out of their pockets, and it might put some out of business that don't want to comply with the new regulations," Gensick said.

For now, Gensick will just keep pruning his apple trees, while praying for good weather and no additional government regulations that could hurt his business.

Two leading industry groups are lobbying to stop the new rules, because they think the new food safety rules could cost domestic farms $460 million dollars, or up to $30,000 per farm.

Public comments have poured in about the impending food safety changes, so the FDA has extended the public comment period through next month.

You can read more about the Food Safety Modernization Act here.

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