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.