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Food Safety Bill Signed Into Law

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 22:12:39 PM PST

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After nearly 2 years of work by Congress on this specific bill and decades of advocacy for food safety reforms in general, Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law today. If nothing else, it shows how much patience and stamina one needs to follow anything in Congress through to the end. The bill went through so many twists and turns that by the time it finally passed, I wasn't even sure exactly what was in the final version, even though I had a general idea. Again and again during 2010, I got frantic emails that the bill was headed to the Senate floor "this week" or "next week" and after a while, those emails seemed like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, because it never happened. But then, right before Christmas, it happened. And Obama signed it.

I don't believe this bill will fix the food system, which is still, by and large, based on the same enormous farms, processing facilities, manufacturers, and corporations as it was before. And, of course, so many of the pathogens that cause food safety problems stem from enormous livestock operations that were not included in this bill at all. But this is a start. It's not nothing.

And, hopefully, it won't hurt any of the farms and small businesses that we love. While there was obviously heated debate over the impact this bill would have on small producers, the best evidence that it will be OK (or as good as possible) is the statement that was sent out by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (pasted below). NSAC was originally and nearly to the end quite worried about the bill's impact on small and sustainable producers, and they worked with the Senate until they reached a compromise that they could live with. Details of that compromise are below.

Jill Richardson :: Food Safety Bill Signed Into Law
A Victory for the Local and Regional Food Movement

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act today, capping a long fight by NSAC and its members and allies for food safety rules that protect consumers without curbing the growing movement toward fresh, local and regional food.  The food safety bill passed by the House in July of 2009 would have imposed a one size fits all regulatory system biased toward  industrial agriculture with a regressive registration fee, expensive food safety plans, and regular on-farm FDA inspections regardless of the degree of the potential risk for food borne illness.  The new regulatory burdens threatened to erect formidable barriers to the develping local and regional markets for many small and moderate sized farms.  

For nearly two years, NSAC has led an effort to win small and mid-size farm amendments to the legislation.  It was a massive effort by advocates at the grassroots and in DC who together shaped and won change for a safer food system and size appropriate rules.

This bill represents a huge victory for our movement. Thank you for your calls, emails and faxes in support of small and mid-sized farms, fresh, safe, local and healthy food!!!

The NSAC supported amendments incorporated into the Food Safety Modernization Act and signed today by the President include:

  • An amendment, sponsored by Senator Sanders (I-VT), giving FDA the authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.
  • An amendment, sponsored by Senator Bennet (D-CO), to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation required under the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill, including instructions to FDA to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods, to make requirements scale appropriate, and to prohibit FDA from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire outside consultants to write food safety plans.
  • An amendment, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), to provide for a USDA-administered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers, with a priority on small and mid-scale farms.
  • An amendment,  sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against "animal encroachment" of farms and require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat.
  • An amendment, sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to exempt farmers from extensive and expensive traceability and recordkeeping requirements if they sell food directly to consumers or to grocery stores, to allow labeling that preserves the identity of the farm through to the consumer to satisfy traceability requirements, and to in most cases limit farm recordkeeping to the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm.
  • An amendment, sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC),to provide a size appropriate and less costly alternative to preventative control plans and produce standards for farmers who:
    • Direct market more than 50% of their products directly to consumers, stores or restaurants,
    • Have gross sales (direct and non-direct combined) of less than $500,000,
    • Sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants that are in-state or within 275 miles, and
    • Provide their customers with their name, address and contact information.
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