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Senate Food Safety Bill Includes Improvements That Support Farmers

April 14, 2010


UPDATE: The food safety bill (S 510) was supposed to go to the full Senate next week, but as of Thursday, April 15, we have heard that the timing is being pushed back a week or two because the Senate will instead be debating finance reform.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) would provide long overdue strengthening of federal enforcement of food safety rules for industry, but would also significantly impact farmers.

In most areas of the legislation, sustainable agriculture and family farm groups think the Senate bill is a very significant improvement over the companion bill passed by the House of Representatives (HR 2749) last year.   If the Senate passes the bill next week or soon thereafter, it will head to a conference committee to work out differences between the two bills.

With the Senate floor vote near, negotiations on changes to the bill have really picked up speed in the past week.  All of the successfully negotiated changes will be packaged together in a “manager’s amendment” that will become part of the underlying bill when it reaches the Senate floor.

We are happy to report below on several very important breakthroughs on important improvements the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and its member organizations have been diligently working on that will be in the manager’s amendment.  Final details on these provisions may take another day or two, but the negotiations are substantially complete enough to report below in general terms.  We will post again as soon as the absolutely final versions of the accepted amendments named below are available.

  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms will be included in the final bill.  It will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.  Included within the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans, and FDA on-farm inspections.
  • The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will also be included in the final bill.  These amendments, intended to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation, pertain to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA will be instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.  FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food safety issue involved mixtures only.
  • The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers will also be part of the final bill.  The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers.   In order to comport with the FDA-specific nature of the overall bill, the farmer training grant program will be provided via a memorandum of understanding between FDA and USDA, but will then be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.  As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510, funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.
  • The effort championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms will also be in the manager’s package.  It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.

An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill is still under negotiation.  We hope to be able to report on the results of that discussion in the coming days.  We remain very interested in maintaining or securing exemptions from traceback recordkeeping requirements for direct farmer-to-consumer or farmer-to-stores or restaurants sales as well as for farm identity preserved sales in general, and for limiting farmer recordkeeping to the point of first sale.  More on this front as information becomes available.

Also in the mix are two amendments by Senator John Tester (D-MT) to exempt food facilities with under $500,000 gross sales from preventative control plan requirements and from traceback/recordkeeping.  Those amendments will likely be debated separately as floor amendments next week and will not be part of the pre-negotiated manager’s package of amendments.

As we have previously reported, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and approved the bill late last year, NSAC helped secure several changes to S. 510 as it existed prior to markup.   Those changes included:

  • requiring FDA and USDA coordination (including with respect to organic farming),
  • limiting recordkeeping for farmers to just the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop, and
  • language in the produce section directing FDA to create rules that are appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm, that take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established by other federal agencies, that do not conflict with organic certification standards, and that prioritize high risk crops.

We’ve been able to help make substantial improvements in the Senate bill through the HELP markup and in changes that will be adopted as part of the manager’s amendment when the bill comes to the Senate floor.  We will need to work hard to maintain these positions in the House-Senate Conference later this year.

If the improvements we have worked hard to secure can be retained in the final bill coming out of conference, attention will then need to turn to the FDA rulemaking and implementation process where the rubber will really hit the road.  There will also be the non-trivial matter of funding – to become effective, the bill will require a significant increase in agricultural appropriations over the coming years, a difficult proposition under any circumstances and particularly difficult in the current fiscal climate.

In our view, the bill is far from perfect, but with the changes adopted in markup and with the changes that will be adopted in the manager’s amendment, the lead Senate sponsors of S. 510 [Senators Durbin (D-IL), Gregg (R-NH), Dodd (D-CT), Burr (R-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Enzi (R-WY)] have gone a long way toward addressing the very legitimate concerns of advocates for small and mid-scale farming, local and regional food systems, and conservation and organic farming.

In addition to the outstanding leadership from Senators Sanders, Bennet, Stabenow, and Boxer, Senators whose support helped secure the improvements for family farming and sustainable agriculture include Senators Bingaman (D-NM), Brown (D-OH), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Merkley (D-OR), Shaheen (D-NH), Specter (D-PA), and Tester (D-MT).  We thank them all for their efforts.

We will provide further information later this week as the final details on the manager’s amendment are solidified and as other potential floor amendments come into focus.  Should specific actions be required at that time, we will be sure to let our readers know.

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Categories: Food Safety


12 Responses to “Senate Food Safety Bill Includes Improvements That Support Farmers”

  1. [...] National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition » Archive » Senate Food Safety Bill Includes … [...]

  2. Harry Hamil says:

    This approach leaves in place the completely unacceptable idea that the Secretary of HHS should have the authority to prescribe rules on cultivation practices of crops. Crops are NOT food. I have no doubt that we will rue the day that we didn’t clearly fight against this idea to the end. Voluntary GAPs are one thing. Prohibiting food for only failing to jump through the hoops of compliance is another.

    NSAC’s attempt to rewrite the facilities definition rather than working to implement a threshold for the application of the additional regulations in Sec. 103 has cost the local, healthy food movement dearly. Furthermore, the clear lack of support by NSAC of the efforts of Sen. Tester has meant that we don’t even have important amendments that will be offered.

    NSAC’s failure to support the efforts by others in the local, healthy food movement and even the members of some of its supporting organizations may cause our growers to be left in an endless swamp of rule making that will make our experience with the NOP seem easy. It may also lead to the utter destruction of hundreds of small processors, packers, distributors and storage facilities and the inability of most of the new farmers to make a full-time living in agriculture.

    Over the next few years, S 510/HR 2749 will probably destroy much of what my wife, Elaine, and I have helped build over the last 15 years in the foodtopia centered on Asheville, NC.

    Fortunately for the local, healthy food movement, local and regional groups including CFSA, FARFA and WORC continue working to rally support for additional changes and to info our customers so that they can exercise their franchise. For more info, go to any of the above cited groups’ websites.

    As always, I speak only for myself. I don’t represent any of the groups I name. And I will happily defend everything I have said by citing provisions in the bill and other supporting info. But most of all I will provide glasses through which reality can be clearly seen. Write me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.org or call me at 828/669-4003 8 AM – 8 PM Eastern Time Monday – Saturday.

  3. awitteman says:

    Thanks Harry. We appreciate your comments, but some of them are untrue. The NSAC staff has in fact been working with Tester’s office for several months on the food safety bill and we support his amendments. We continue to share our members’ deep concerns over the food safety bills but are glad that due to our strenuous efforts and those of our allies, the Senate version of the bill is considerably better than the House.

  4. [...] that NSAC put out yesterday about the status of the manager’s amendment as it stands now: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/senate-food-safety-bill-includes-improvements-for-farmers/ Tags: Bill, food safety legislation, managers amendment, pushed back, S 510, Senate, timing, [...]

  5. [...] National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded a package of proposed amendments this week that would be voted on as a package when the bill [...]

  6. [...] The food safety bill (S 510) was supposed to go to the full Senate next week, but we were told today that the timing is being pushed back a week or two because the Senate will instead be debating finance reform.  The following is the food safety update that NSAC put out yesterday about the status of the manager’s amendment as it stands now: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/senate-food-safety-bill-includes-improvements-for-farmers/  [...]

  7. ROBERT STULL says:

    NOFA_NY CERTIFIED ORGANIC LLC. UNDER THE NOP RULES REQUIRE THAT EVERY CERTIFIED ORGANIC FARM DOCUMENT THAT WHEN AND FROM WHAT FIELD THE CROP WAS HARVESTED. THIS MEANS THE HARVEST RECORD BY DATE. CONTAINERS OF PRODUCE SOLD MUST HAVE AN IDENTIFYING LABEL TO INDICATE WHICH FARM GREW THE PRODUCT. I WAS FIRST CERTIFIED IN 1985. ONCE YOU BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO THE RECORD KEEPING, IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I HAVE JUST OVER 60 ACRES ON WHICH I GROW ABOUT 2 TO 4 ACRES OF VEGETABLES A YEAR. I ALSO HAVE AN UNMANAGEABLE DEER HERD OF 60 TO 100 DEER THAT REGULARLY VISIT MY FIELDS. HUNTING DOES NOT SEEM TO REDUCE THE HERD AS THE DEER LEAVE MY FARM TO THE NEXT FIELD WHICH HAS BEEN DECLARED A NO HUNTING AREA.THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME LET OFF SOME STEAM.

  8. Jon says:

    Nice article, but here’s just a quick clarification: Sen. Bernie Sanders is not a member of either the Democratic or Republican party. As an independent, he should be referred to as (I-VT).

  9. [...] to reducing the negative impact on small farms. Some of the key points that have small farmers and sustainability advocates looking up, assuming they remain in the bill until it goes to [...]

  10. [...] who choose not to use patented GMO products for seed; and the current debate over the proposed FDA standards that would hold small, organic farmers to the same production standards as large, commercial cut [...]

  11. marv fritz says:

    Just a couple of thougths about food safety. First and formost, we all get hurt when bad product hits the market. It make little difference that a person grows 1 tomato or ten million; if it is bad, we all get the rap. It makes little sense to expempt anyone from food safety rules because of size for that reason. Second, until the retail community changes how they sell our products, there is some, but very little, benefit of indentity preservation. If my produce goes on a shelf an is mixed with many others, what is the benefit? My product could be contaminated by some store customer or outside source and be blamed for the contamination that was on some persons hands that picked up the product. It is a little like the line at the airport. You have the illusion of safety, but not the reality of it.

  12. Jeremy Deck says:

    This is not about safety, this is about money. Monsanto is evil.

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