In response to the E. coli 0157 outbreak last year in bagged spinach, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering federal rules that would require growers of all leafy green vegetables to follow guidelines in the fields and during post-harvest handling.

But the Cornucopia Institute, which says it represents small- and medium-sized growers, says the rules will cause them to be competitively disadvantaged.

The USDA has released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking. Members of the public have until Dec. 3 to comment on the controversial proposal. The rule can be viewed at www.ams.usda.gov.

Such one-size-fits-all requirements, while unproven in terms of their impact on food safety, would be disastrous for wildlife, biodiversity, and for the family-scale farmers who are producing some of the nation's highest-quality produce, says Charlotte Vallaeys, farm and food policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, a Cornucopia, Wis.-based farm policy group.

She says uniform growing practices and food safety measures,may be appropriate for large-scale factory-farms. But they would be onerous and unnecessary for diverse family farms.

The rules would likely mirror those already in place in California, where farmers have been asked to take extreme measures with little scientific justification, Vallaeys says. Some large produce buyers, such as processors, supermarkets and fast food chains, are using those rules to issue their own standards.

For example, farmers have been told to destroy hedgerows and other non-crop vegetation around farms that provide important habitat for beneficial wildlife, she says. They also have been told to erect fences around their fields, which negatively impacts wildlife corridors. Such measures have not been shown to be effective deterrents to E. coli contamination, Vallaeys says.

Tom Willey of T & D Willey Farms in Madera, Calif., an organic operation, blames the E. coli 0157 outbreaks on cattle raised under stressful environments on unnatural diets.

Allowing such practices to continue while burdening produce growers with the impossible task of sterilizing their farms is folly beyond belief, he says.

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