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Food Safety Bill Passes!

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 15:03:54 PM PDT


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A rough unofficial transcript of the debate about small farms and organics is below.

UPDATE: The vote was 283-142 in favor. 229 Dems and 54 Republicans in favor. 20 Dems and 122 Republicans opposed. 8 didn't vote. You can see who voted for it here. I've posted a statement by Consumers Union below.

Jill Richardson :: Food Safety Bill Passes!
Rep. Farr:

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.

Rep. Waxman/Dingell:

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.

From Consumers Union:

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."

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Yay! (4.00 / 2)
I hope.

I have succumbed to the Twitter craze. @Omir55

That's exactly how I feel (4.00 / 2)
I hope this is a good thing in the end.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
With Congress, it's hard to tell (4.00 / 1)
Even the best-intentioned bills can sometimes turn into monsters their creators never intended them to be, and sometimes bad laws become even worse than we could possibly imagine. I just hope this one puts some real safety into food safety and doesn't turn into a hammer to destroy small producers and organic/sustainable farmers.

I have succumbed to the Twitter craze. @Omir55

[ Parent ]
I hate to be a wet blanket but.... (4.00 / 3)
this isn't going to make food any safer than it is now. This won't do anything to boost inspections of or safety of imported food and food components, I don't know how it's going to fund more inspections, at least not enough to actually accomplish anything. It certainly won't stop unconscional (sp?) behavior on the part of plant managers and business heads that made the PCA peanut products debacle possible.

Everyone talks about tracability in the food system, but if the consumer who gets sick from something that takes 2 weeks to make the person symptomatic, and that person can't remember what they ate 2 weeks ago, all the tracability in the world isn't going to help. I can't remember everything I ate 2 weeks ago, can you? Perhaps we could require that all consumers keep a detailed log of what we eat, when and where.  

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....


I totally agree with you (4.00 / 2)
in the context of the peanut butter salmonella outbreak, some of the stuff in the bill makes a lot of sense. Some of it, not all of it. But you are SO right that often recalls are for foods that people mostly ate already, long after the recall can actually save anyone from getting sick. And it's hard to tell which food made people sick a lot of time, especially if they don't have some of it still at home that can be sampled and tested.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Tom Periello (4.00 / 3)
Why did Tom Periello, supposedly liberal Democrat from Virgina who the whole progressive movement loves, vote against the bill?

David


probably because it wasn't good enough (4.00 / 2)
for organics and small farmers, but I can call his office to ask. Also, there's a VERY active group in Virginia lobbying against this bill, so he might have been totally spammed by them to the point where he really had to pay attention to what they were saying.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
I agree with you on that (4.00 / 1)
Since I've been monitoring and studying these food recalls I've developed a deep appreciation for the work and the damnably difficult tast facing the CDC epidemiologists trying to figure out just what made people sick. Especially when faced with industry convolutions making it difficult to even figure out what went where as in the case of the tomato tracing during one national food bourne illness event. A lot of the people who got sick ate tomatoes, but had a hard time remembering if they were on the vine, roma, slicing, etc., then as tomatoes move from farm to packer/distributor, store they change names and designations, so a Roma can be called 2 or 3 names before it reaches the consumer. And after all that it turned out that it wasn't even tomatoes that caused the illnesses.

Considering that this bill will give FDA recall authority, I wonder how that would have played out? That's one of the things that concerns me about this bill. On the one hand, if FDA orders a recall and they get the causative agent wrong, they've just tanked a lot of farms and businesses, but on the other hand, if a contaminated food makes in into the market and a company doesn't recall it, then lots of people get sick and some die.

It's a catch 22.

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....


[ Parent ]
it IS a catch 22 (0.00 / 0)
the Republicans wanted to put money into the bill to compensate farmers who lose money from FDA mistakes, but they were diverting money from what was to be used for inspections, so it didn't pass. I am all for paying back farmers to compensate for FDA error, but the FDA is way underfunded as it is - if they want to use money for that, they need to give it to the FDA first.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Would a better way (4.00 / 1)
to go be putting a certain ammount in a sepperate fund to compensate farmers or manufacturers for a mandatory recall that turned out to be mistaken? I'd like to see something like that with funding that couldn't be touched unless an event like this occurs.

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....

[ Parent ]
agreed (0.00 / 0)
but the problem is simply that there's a lack of cash overall and lobbying got the fees reduced from $1000 to $500 so the amt the FDA will have from fees was cut in half.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
another hoop to jump through (0.00 / 0)
as a small farm/producer - what next the health care bill requiring me to buy health insurance for my employees?

the cost of my products or my ability to operate profitably which has been marginal - is getting short changed in all of this .

this could be a very shitty month for small farmers trying to make a living.  


It's not law yet bud (4.00 / 2)
It has to pass the much more Conservative Senate.

[ Parent ]
and Waxman intends to address that (4.00 / 2)
when the bill is in conference.

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.


[ Parent ]
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