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Update on Food Safety: Wins and Future Directions in the Senate

February 18, 2010


At the end of January, we sent out an action alert supporting Senator Stabenow’s Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758) which would provide scale-appropriate training and technical assistance on food safety for small and mid-sized producers and small processors and wholesalers.

In it, we outlined the deficiencies in the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), the food safety bill currently up for debate in the Senate, that threaten to undermine good conservation and biodiversity practices, retard the development of stronger local and regional food systems, and bar access to markets for small and mid-sized farms.

NSAC’s support for the Stabenow bill as an amendment to S. 510 is one part of a multi-prong approach to address these looming challenges to family farmer livelihoods and the environment. Over the past few months, NSAC’s members, made up of grassroots organizations working directly with farmers from across the nation, have agreed on the priority topics of concern with S. 510.

NSAC influences improvements to S. 510

At the urging of NSAC and other groups, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has made several improvements in the bill. The newly revised version includes several key planks from the NSAC position paper and legislative proposal:

  • In the fruit and vegetable (produce) standards section of the bill, the new language requires coordination between FDA and USDA, rather than merely requiring FDA to consult with USDA. The coordination specifically includes the National Organic Program.
  • Also in the fresh produce section, FDA is instructed to create rules that:
    • are flexible and appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm,
    • take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established federal conservation, wildlife, and environmental agencies,
    • do not include requirements that conflict with or duplicate organic standards, and
    • prioritize for implementation rules for crops that have been associated with foodborne illness.
  • In the traceability section, the bill was amended to restrict recordkeeping for produce farms (with the exception of produce farms that also have processing facilities) to information about the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop.

NSAC Continues Effort to Improve S. 510 on four main fronts

However, very glaring problems remain. We are focused on 4 of them:

  • Farm facilities which do value-added processing or which co-mingle product with neighboring farms will be subject to a proposed new, extensive and expensive FDA regulatory regime regardless of risk and regardless of scale.
  • Proposed new requirements for crop traceability beyond the farm gate and related recordkeeping requirements will make it difficult or impossible for farmers to comply.
  • A produce standard provision threatens wildlife and biodiversity. 
  • Lack of training or technical assistance on food safety appropriate for small and mid-sized value added producers and small scale processors and wholesalers exacerbates the challenges these operations will face to comply with new regulation.

To address these concerns, NSAC is supporting amendments that:

  • Focus FDA regulation and resources only on on-farm processing and co-mingling activities that present the most risk for causing food borne pathogen contamination;
  • Exempt farms with small and moderate gross sales from new federal regulation, relying instead on existing state regulation and food safety training;
  • Exempt from traceability requirements food that is direct marketed by the farmer as well as food with labels that preserve the identity of the farm through the supply chain, and limit farm recordkeeping to receipts from the first point of sale beyond the farm gate;
  • Remove the animal encroachment language from the bill and replaces it with science-based language targeting “animals of significant risk” as determined by FDA in a public rulemaking; and
  • Include the language of Senator Stabenow’s Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758) that creates a competitive grants program within USDA to provide food safety training and technical assistance to small and mid-sized producers, and small processors and produce wholesalers.

Each of these provisions is being crafted by Senate offices to be included as an amendment to the bill as reported by HELP. We will let readers know of actions they can take to support these common sense amendments as more information becomes available.

There is no question that the food system in the U.S. needs to be made safer and that federal oversight and enforcement must be strengthened. Making our food safer, however, should not come at the expense of sustainable and organic producers’ livelihoods – those farmers who best model the production and marketing methods necessary for ensuring a resilient landscape and healthy human society.

While NSAC supports the important efforts to decrease foodborne illnesses, we do believe the primary legislative vehicles introduced into the House and Senate in 2009 have largely failed to acknowledge the diversity of agriculture or the different risks associated with various production and processing practices. As a result, NSAC will continue its effort to ensure that new food safety measures do not create additional barriers to the adoption of sustainable and organic practices, on-farm or to consumers’ access to healthy, local foods.


Categories: Food Safety


3 responses to “Update on Food Safety: Wins and Future Directions in the Senate”

  1. Cathy says:

    Of great concern – The FDA has repeated said that they want to end raw milk sales across the board, because they feel it’s a high risk food. Your statement here “Focus FDA regulation and resources only on on-farm processing and co-mingling activities that present the most risk for causing food borne pathogen contamination” will mean an end to small, diversified raw milk farms.

    Our experience show that raw milk and grass-fed meats are items that a consumer will travel up to 150 miles to purchase, unlike vegetables and fruits. Raw milk is an important gateway to expanding direct farm sales into other items. Customers that buy raw milk, also buy a huge diversified grocery list when they are at the farm. Please see David Gumpert’s great blog on this aspect. http://bit.ly/8XoHZV

    There is a HUGE influx of money leaving the standard food supply chain, and DIRECTLY infusing money into the local, sustainable farm economy. Please be careful, for what you ask for! Don’t give FDA the right to sweep away state regs allowing raw milk sales or distribution through private cow-share operations.

  2. Harry Hamil says:

    I’m very confused by your update. Please clarify the following:

    1) The HELP Committee has reported the bill to floor. How can it have “made several improvements in the bill?”
    2) And in the next sentence, what “newly revised version” of the bill?

    I have just re-checked the Congressional websites and all they have are the 11-18-09 version of the bill which doesn’t contain any of this.

    If you have something more, please post it.

    Also, NSAC continues to overlook the devastating effect that the new Section 418 Hazard Analysis & Risk-basked Preventive Controls will have on our ability to get our product to market (distributors) and continue and expand our value-added processing (processing).

    Finally, as well demonstrated by what has happened with the NOP and the NLGMA, the rulemaking required by the new Section 419 Standards for Produce Safety will overwhelm us. The rulemaking regime demanded by the Make Our Food Safe Coalition and FDA will stifle us. But unlike the NOP, in this case, we can’t opt out. If we don’t meet the “minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of…fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities” set by the Secretary of HHS–not by people with knowledge of agriculture–then we are out of business!

    Compromising on these will ring the death knell of the local, healthy food movement into which my wife and I have invested 14+ years and over half of our wealth.

    Please change your tactics before it is too late.

    As always, I will happily defend everything I have written. Please write me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com or call me at 828/669-4003, 8 AM – 8 PM Eastern Time, Monday – Saturday.

  3. jdaniel says:

    The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions marked up and reported S. 510 to the full Senate on November 18. You can view our contemporaneous story on that action here. You may view our press release issued as markup ended on November 18 here.

    Committee markup is the first step in the legislative process. Bills get amended in committee, and then voted on. If they pass with at least a majority vote, they are reported to the floor as amended by the Committee.

    In this case, most of the amending happened by way of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee presenting the Committee with a modified version of S. 510 at the outset of the markup. That new version of S. 510 included the provisions related to scale, diversity, conservation, organic, and coordination with USDA that we mentioned in this February 18 blog post.

    Readers may view the new version of S. 510, as reported by the Committee, by going to http://thomas.loc.gov, typing in S. 510 in the search box, then, when the page opens, click on “text of legislation, and then click on the version of the bill that says “Reported in the Senate.”

    Our longer posting from back in November, by the way, also detailed NSAC proposals that were not accepted at the Committee level, plus four amendments that were approved – two each from Senators Burr (R-NC) and Murkowski (R-AK). It also discusses the many amendments that were introduced but withdrawn. Many of those withdrawn amendments will likely be re-introduced and debated by the full Senate as amendments on the Senate floor.

    As with Committee action, the majority of amendments that get made on the Senate floor will very likely be contained in what in Hill-speak they call the “Managers amendment” which generally contain all of the amendments from various Senators that get worked out and successfully negotiated before the bill is open for further amendment on the floor.
    We hope that helps explain the sometimes mystifying legislative process.

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