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Food Safety Bill Clears Senate Committee

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill that would greatly increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority and mandate over the food system, was unanimously voted out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee yesterday, nine months after Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the measure. 

Groups in support of the legislation hailed the committee’s action and continued to press the Senate to vote on the bill before the end of the year.

“This is another milestone on the path to fixing our badly-broken system for food safety,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. “The Senate bill was passed unanimously by committee members on both sides of the political aisle. The bipartisan support for this bill is strong, and momentum is building.”

“I’m feeling extremely positive that ultimately this ended up being a bipartisan issue, which is what it should be,” said Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.). 

“We’re going into the holiday season with great hopes that this is moving along and will be enacted as soon as possible,” added Rosenbaum.

Though the version of the legislation that cleared the HELP committee enjoyed bipartisan support yesterday, there still remain issues to be resolved on the floor and eventually in conference committee. The House version of FDA food safety reform contains some differences–most notably the House bill would impose fees on food facilities to help fund the FDA’s food safety inspection efforts, the Senate version does not.

Small and sustainable agriculture groups also still have concerns about the legislation’s potential impact on farms, though advocates were pleased with progress made in the markup session.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) organized small and mid-sized farmers to press for changes to the bill over the past several days, and their efforts proved fruitful. NSAC was pleased with the new version of the legislation–which was Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) substitute amendment.  Harkin is a longtime proponent of the agriculture community.

NSAC believes the changes made to the bill respond to concerns over farm scale, crop diversity, conservation and organic conflicts and are “a step in the right direction” but the group still has major concerns.

NSAC wants the FDA to be more explicit about how much new regulations would impact farmers. “The Food and Drug Administration believes that tens of thousands of farms are affected by the bill’s provisions,” said Fred Hoefner, policy director for NSAC. “We have good reason to believe it is hundreds of thousands with more to come as farmers respond to consumer demand for high quality, value-added local and regional food.”

“It behooves the Senate to get an answer to this very basic question before finishing the legislative process,” said Hoefner.

NSAC is also continuing to press for the Senate to add the Growing Safe Food Act (S.2758) to the food safety bill to help alleviate the impact of food safety compliance on small and mid-sized farmers.  S. 2758, recently introduced by Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), would provide funding and educational programs to help educate and train farmers and food processors, “We will continue to push for its inclusion as the bill moves to the Senate floor,” said Hoefner.

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Making more healthy food available needs to be a key goal of any food safety legislation. Unfortunately, as brought to the floor of the Senate, S 510 continues its one-size-fits-all approach to regulation. As written, it will restrict the availability of the healthiest food available in America today–local, sustainably grown food sold through local markets.
    Also, the one-size-fits-all approach means that S 510 directs a significant amount of the FDA’s limited inspection capacity toward the low risk, local food movement instead of toward the high risk, industrial food system.
    Both of these weaknesses would be eliminated if a tiered system of regulation. The FDA already uses a tiered system to regulate eggs and prepared foods. State and local government is responsible for basic regulation including guidance and some rules made by the FDA. For example, state and local health departments enforce the FDA’s recently revised Food Code. Then, if an outbreak occurs, the FDA turns its attention and resources toward it.
    This may best be done by having a threshold for the application of the food safety plans in Section 103 of S 510. I advocate $500,000 average annual gross profit (as defined on business tax returns). This would be the average of the 3 most recent years as income can vary widely from year to year in agriculture due to weather, etc.
    Many people probably don’t understand that the food facility definition was written to deal with terrorists and was created by the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. It was NOT written with food safety in mind. Food safety has been piled on top of it.
    A definition of facility used for bioterrorism needs to be extremely broad. So, if food safety uses the bioterrorism definition, it will inappropriately apply involved, complex, expensive regulations regardless of risk to low risk facilities. This provision would eliminate that weakness of the bill..
    If anyone would like to discuss/debate this, please call me at 828/669-4003 8 AM – 8 PM Eastern Time, Monday – Saturday.

  • Harry Hamil

    Making more healthy food available needs to be a key goal of any food safety legislation. Unfortunately, as brought to the floor of the Senate, S 510 continues its one-size-fits-all approach to regulation. As written, it will restrict the availability of the healthiest food available in America today–local, sustainably grown food sold through local markets.
    Also, the one-size-fits-all approach means that S 510 directs a significant amount of the FDA’s limited inspection capacity toward the low risk, local food movement instead of toward the high risk, industrial food system.
    Both of these weaknesses would be eliminated if a tiered system of regulation. The FDA already uses a tiered system to regulate eggs and prepared foods. State and local government is responsible for basic regulation including guidance and some rules made by the FDA. For example, state and local health departments enforce the FDA’s recently revised Food Code. Then, if an outbreak occurs, the FDA turns its attention and resources toward it.
    This may best be done by having a threshold for the application of the food safety plans in Section 103 of S 510. I advocate $500,000 average annual gross profit (as defined on business tax returns). This would be the average of the 3 most recent years as income can vary widely from year to year in agriculture due to weather, etc.
    Many people probably don’t understand that the food facility definition was written to deal with terrorists and was created by the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. It was NOT written with food safety in mind. Food safety has been piled on top of it.
    A definition of facility used for bioterrorism needs to be extremely broad. So, if food safety uses the bioterrorism definition, it will inappropriately apply involved, complex, expensive regulations regardless of risk to low risk facilities. This provision would eliminate that weakness of the bill..
    If anyone would like to discuss/debate this, please call me at 828/669-4003 8 AM – 8 PM Eastern Time, Monday – Saturday.