I rise to engage in a colloquy with my friend, the distinguished gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Dingell California, Mr. Waxman. We are passing an historic food safety measure today and I truly appreciate the effort that you, the Committee and Staff have worked to move this legislation to the floor today. As the Member of Congress that represents the Salad Bowl of the World I feel the landmark legislation is long overdue and look forward to working with my colleague as this process moves to the Senate and Conference and also as a member of the Agriculture Appropriations I look forward to working with the gentleman to allocate resources necessary to make the safest food in the world even safer.
I have deep concerns, however, about the fee structure in the measure, which would charge a farm family making jams or syrup or cheese the same fee as a processing plant owned by a multinational corporation employing hundreds or thousands or workers. This strikes me as not only unfair but contrary to federal farm policy that has encouraged small and mid-sized family farms to get into small scale value-added enterprises to survive economically. I am seeking an assurance from the gentleman that a more progressive fee structure will be found that does not inhibit our farm families from taking advantage of new markets.
As a member of the Organic Caucus, I also have concerns about the interplay between this bill and the National Organic Program. Is it the Chairman's understanding that this bill would not establish any requirements for organically produced or processed products which are in conflict with the requirements established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the USDA's National Organic Program regulations?
Mr. Blumenauer: I thank my colleague Mr. Farr for his statement and for the yielding of his time and I would like to echo both his praise and his concerns. Like Mr. Farr, I recognize the need for food safety reform. This is a very important issue that must be addressed by the House, and I appreciate the efforts of the Chairman to address some of the concerns of small and organic farmers. I have pushed for food safety reform since being elected to Congress and am proud that this is the year we will finally see it receive the attention it deserve. However I am concerned about the impact of this bill on the small farmers in my state and across the country. Over sixty percent of Oregon farmers make their living from a farm that is smaller than fifty acres. I echo Mr. Farr's concerns regarding the fairness of some of these requirements for these farmers.
I am also concerned about the language regarding interaction between wildlife, livestock and farming practices. Biodiversity is a prerequisite for a healthy farm and not something we should penalize farmers for. Last week in my state, staff from Oregon State University and the Xerces Society led a tour to four diverse Oregon farms where farmers are utilizing techniques such as naturescaping, floodplain restoration and natural hedgerows to encourage crop health, control pests and invasive species, and enhance soil quality. I am concerned that these practices, which are cost effective and bring benefits to the farm and local wildlife, would be in jeopardy under this legislation.
I believe we should target reform and safety efforts towards practices which have been directly linked to food disease outbreaks, rather than limiting approaches that farmers have used for centuries to reduce their dependence on pesticides, herbicides and other carbon intensive farming techniques.
I would like assurance from the Chairman that as the Food and Drug Administration develops these criteria, they will consider the needs of small farms and the practices of organic farmers.
I thank my colleague(s) for their comments. The bill before us includes important language that would exempt from registration and from fees on-farm processors who sell more than half of their product by value directly to consumers or who process grain for sale to other farms. I believe these two provisions go a long way to satisfying the kinds of concerns being expressed. However, I realize there are other small farms or small local processors who will not fit under these exemptions who may face a hardship and I promise to work with my colleagues to address these concerns as the bill moves into conference.
With respect to the National Organic Program, it is my expectation that FDA will work very closely with the NOP as it implements this bill to ensure there are no such conflicts. There is direction within the bill for the FDA to consider small farms, organic practices and conservation methods, and I trust that this will be followed. The intention of this bill is not to harm farming practices that have existed for centuries with minimal documented health risk.
Mr. Farr: I thank the gentlemen for his assurances.
Consumers Union Praises House Passage of Food Safety Enhancement Act
WASHINGTON, D.C.-Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, today applauded members of the U.S. House of Representatives for approving a historic bill to overhaul the nation's food-safety system, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 ("FSEA," H.R. 2749). The House approved the bill by a vote of 283-142.
Jean Halloran, Consumers Union's campaign director for food safety, said, "This is a major milestone towards making our food safer and repairing our badly broken food-safety system. Consumers want to trust that the food they eat-no matter where it comes from-won't harm them. We appreciate the hard work of Congress to move forward to assure that consumers will have safe, affordable and sustainably produced food. This bill will go a long way to prevent a repeat of deadly contaminations like the salmonella-laced peanut butter that caused hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths earlier this year."
Consumers Union has long advocated for measures contained in the FSEA to improve food safety by giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to recall contaminated food, requiring FDA to inspect high-risk facilities at least every six months to a year, and enacting other critical reforms, citing the string of serious food-borne illnesses linked to peanut butter, spinach, peppers, and other common foods.
Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, "This bill will make a fundamental difference in keeping our food safe and our families safe. This reform is long overdue, and we're optimistic that the momentum is building for these changes to finally become law. We commend the House leadership for taking action and finding common ground on food safety. We hope the Senate will act promptly to pass a similarly strong bill after the recess."