August 28, 2015
With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) poised to release new food safety rules for produce growers and food facilities this fall, Members of Congress are drawing attention to the urgent need for outreach, education, and training – particularly as faced by small-scale farms newly subject to food safety requirements.
Members of both the House and Senate joined in letters to FDA urging the agency to begin doing outreach and education to farmers and small-scale food businesses regarding expectations, deadlines, training opportunities, and the availability of technical assistance resources. The congressmen and congresswomen stressed the importance of doing such outreach and education now, to provide farmers and food enterprises with clear and accurate information as they make business decisions for next year.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) led the letters, and were joined by Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representatives Sam Far (D-CA) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME). NSAC appreciates the work of these Members of Congress to draw attention to this important issue.
The letters also highlighted the need to expedite implementation of Section 209 of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which established a competitive grants program at the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for food safety training and technical assistance to help small-scale farms and food processors understand and come into compliance with new FSMA requirements. FDA and NIFA are collaboratively working to implement this new program, initially through the establishment of National and Regional training centers. Senate appropriators have made it clear that funds for this program after this first round of awards should be directed toward on-the-ground training projects.
The food safety training grants program received a first-time appropriation of $2.5 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, but funding for FY 2016 remains in question. Currently, the House appropriations bill contains $5 million for this critical program, which is in line with NSAC’s request, and is a modest increase for a program of such importance. The Senate bill, unfortunately, maintains the program at FY 2015 funding levels. NSAC will continue urging appropriators to support the House level for this program in FY 2016 to ensure accessible and appropriate trainings are available for the most vulnerable farms and food businesses.