Official: Act endangers farmers

New Mexico Peanut Growers Association President Wayne Baker is not a big fan of the upcoming Food Safety Act.

"If this thing is passed, they need to put farmers on the endangered species list," said Baker Thursday as he introduced guest speaker David Lucero with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, who was at the organization's annual meeting in Portales to take about new federal rules.

Lucero, who serves as the liaison between the FDA and ag producers, said the purpose of the act is to improve produce safety standards as well as preventative control for human foods.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Ag producers line up for lunch at Thursday's annual New Mexico Peanut Growers meeting and luncheon in the Portales Memorial Building.

He said regulations and new laws will cover the management of equipment, tools, buildings and sanitation, domesticated and wild animals, worker's health and hygiene, agricultural water and growing, harvesting and packing activities.

He said once the final ruling is announced, farmers will have 60 days to comply with them. There will be a comment period for farmers to make suggestions on any improvements regarding the rules prior to the final ruling but Lucero assured them changes will take place.

"It's going to happen," he said.

Lucero said the FDA plans to contract with state agencies to monitor and visit farms to make sure farmers and producers are in compliance.

He added record keeping will also play a large portion into management of these new rules.

"The FDA said record keeping shouldn't be too burdensome," Lucero said. "I don't think that will be the case."

He says the FDA will also conduct assessments of risk for produce, with products that touch the ground being at higher risk of being contaminated as an example.

"They want to validate your process," he said. "They want to review records of what you've done."

Lucero and representatives for legislators said they hope to get the FDA to host a hearing locally so that the voices of local farmers can be heard.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

National Peanut Board President Bob Parker, left, speaks to an audience of ag producers in the peanut industry about his advertising plans for the peanuts. New Mexico Peanut Growers Association President Wayne Baker, right, organized Thursday's meeting.

Though the FDA's new act weighed heavy on the minds of concerned producers, the new National Peanut Board President Bob Parker discussed his plans to ramp up the peanut business.

Parker, a native of Georgia, says he's worked in the peanut industry for more than 30 years and his main mission is to increase the demand for U.S. grown peanuts through education and advertising.

He hopes this year's campaign about peanuts offering 24-7 energy will stick with people of all ages.

"We live in a 24-7 world," Parker said. "We need energy to keep us active at all times."

Parker said the board is also working with schools on peanut allergy awareness, hoping to keep peanuts on the menu for students while keeping those who are allergic safe.

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