For Immediate Release
November 16, 2009
For More Information:
Ferd Hoefner, Aimee Witteman
Farm Groups Ask for Food Safety Bill Improvements
November 16, 2009, Washington, DC — Over 47 national and state food and agricultural organizations today urged the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to rewrite pending food safety legislation to improve food safety outcomes by making the bill work for family farms, value-added agricultural development, conservation and the environment, organic farm certification, and emerging local and regional food systems.
The HELP Committee will mark up the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) on Wednesday morning. The bill (S. 510) as introduced would make major improvements in the federal regulatory regime related to food-borne illness from pathogens, but in doing so would erect significant barriers to better food and nutrition and improved public health through heavy-handed and costly attempts to apply corporate and industrial controls to family farms and the biological systems farmers work with daily.
HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) are expected to release a revised bill for committee consideration prior to Wednesday’s mark-up.
The letter, distributed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Organic Coalition, National Farmers Union, and Organic Trade Association, and endorsed by over 43 other national, regional and local food and agricultural groups, urges the Chairman and Ranking Member to incorporate a set of common sense, practical provisions that would simultaneously improve food safety outcomes and support a stronger family farm system producing high quality, healthy food from environmentally-friendly production systems.
“We want to support the bill, but in its current form we cannot,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “It is not good policy to stick small and mid-sized family farms with large compliance costs to comply with industrial regulations. We support training and technical assistance to help farmers craft scale-appropriate on-farm food safety plans, a key element missing from the bill.”
The letter also addresses the issue of lack of government coordination in program and regulatory requirements for farmers. The groups call for clear provisions in the bill to require the Food and Drug Administration to coordinate with the US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Fish and Wildlife Agency to ensure that any on-farm food safety standards they develop are not in conflict with conservation and environmental rules.
“Besides contributing to clean air, clean water, soil tilth and overall environmental health, the conservation practices our farmers use mitigate certain food safety risks by establishing important vegetative buffers that can filter pathogens from streams and runoff and protect cropland from windborne pathogens,” said Brad Redlin, Director of Agricultural Programs at the Izaak Walton League of America. “It is critical that the HELP committee ensures that new food safety standards are consistent with conservation practice standards for the safety and long-term health of our agricultural systems and human communities.”
Similarly, the groups’ letter calls for special consideration of certified organic farms and ranches and clear language instructing the FDA and USDA to coordinate together to establish food safety standards that are relevant to certified organic production. It also urges the HELP committee to consider allowing organic inspectors who already act as agents of USDA to have the opportunity to become accredited food safety inspectors so that they can combine organic and food safety inspection in a single annual field visit.
“The USDA’s National Organic Program has long had food safety-related measures in place, including produce traceability and composting regulations,” said Steve Etka, Senior Representative for the National Organic Coalition. “It is imperative that FDA recognize these existing measures and coordinate with USDA so that certified organic farmers and ranchers do not have to face duplicative or conflicting standards. We also encourage the HELP committee to consider how the enforcement process could be streamlined and overall cost of the bill reduced if enforcement of food safety standards for certified organic farms were conducted by organic certifiers.”