New rules worry small farms selling across provincial borders

Owners of a small farm in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, who sell produce weekly at New Brunswick's Dieppe Farmers Market worry they may soon get caught up in new regulations proposed by the CFIA. 

"All regulations shouldn't paint every single farm with the same brushstroke," said Shannon Jones, the co-owner of Broadfork Farm in River Hebert. She and her partner farm vegetables, melons, flowers, and ducks on their own. 

"We're different, and we need different types of regulations, and in some cases, that might be an exemption," she said. 

Provincial borders a problem

Jones's farm is one hour away from Dieppe but because she crosses a provincial border to sell her produce, it falls under a set of CFIA draft regulations on all foods imported into Canada or sold between provinces. 

The regulations force food producers to take measures to make food safer. Jones said she's worried she might have to do things like increased record keeping, or logging each time someone cleans the "employee washroom" — which is the bathroom in her house. 

Jones argues farms like hers should be exempt from the interprovincial regulations. 

"We're not selling to a wholesaler or a distributor who's selling to unknown places across the country. And so we have, inherently with the type of model that we use to sell our produce, we have that traceability, we have that transparency with our customers that the government is asking for," she said.  

CFIA accepting feedback

In an open letter, Jones and her partner Bryan Dyck outline their concerns and ask their customers to petition the CFIA to treat farms that sell directly to interprovincial consumers the same as farms that sell directly to consumers in their own province. 

The agency is accepting comments during the consultation period, which lasts until April 21. 

The CFIA has published draft regulations on its website, which the public can review. 

In those regulations, the CFIA said in April 2015 it consulted with small and "micro" businesses, which are considered to be businesses with no more than four employees and gross sales of $30,000 or less. 

Although those small and micro businesses would still have to comply with safe food handling regulations, the draft regulations exempt them from some of the measures that larger businesses have to undertake. 

"Micro" farms exempt

The Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia Cooperative addressed that limit in a letter to the CFIA, saying it's concerned small farms are being lumped in with larger farms. 

"Our opinion is that $30,000 is not a living wage for someone," said Keltie Butler, the cooperative's executive director. "It's really stunting the growth of our small-scale farmers."

"It suggests perhaps that there's not a great understanding currently of the small-scale farm movement that's really taking place across the country but certainly in the Atlantic provinces."  

The concerns raised by Jones are shared by many other small market farmers in Atlantic Canada, Butler said. 

Food safety risks?

The CFIA noted that some small businesses associations wanted the $30,000 limit raised. 

"But this represented a minority of stakeholders that provided feedback during the CFIA's 2015 consultation on this subject," it said. 

"In contrast, strong support for the proposed exemption amount was expressed by the majority of industry stakeholders during the consultation. This view is supported by recent FDA research which suggested that food risks/hazards are not dependent on the size of an operation."

Shannon Jones said on her small farm, she and her partner take food handling and safety extremely seriously.

"On our farm we're committed to safe food, not because of any regulation, but because we see and we know the people who eat our food," she said. "They know exactly where the food is coming from, because we hand them the food. They can look into our eyes."