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Farmers Gain in Senate Food Safety Battle

An update on the pending food safety bill, with an outline of key amendments and  discussion on the proposed exemption for small farms

Several amendments aimed at lessening the impact on small farms will be adopted in the final version of the food safety bill headed for the Senate floor next week, a key sustainable agriculture group announced yesterday.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reported that “several very important breakthroughs on important improvements” for its constituents will be included in the manager’s amendment, a package of changes agreed upon by both sides before floor debate.

The group has been working closely with Senate staff to address widespread concern in the small, organic, sustainable agriculture communities about the impact the pending FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) would have on the growing local food movement.

With key changes in the works, the group may be able to get behind the legislation, NSAC spokeswoman Aimee Witteman told Food Safety News. “Assuming there are no new surprises in the bill and once information is shared about the outcome of the negotiations over Senator Brown’s traceback provision [see below], we can support the bill as amended,” said Witteman in an email yesterday.

According to NSAC, the support for changes has “picked up speed in the past week” with a floor vote imminent. The group reported that the following changes have been agreed to (it’s important to note, the final language has not been worked out):

-The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms will be included in the final bill. It will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with 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. Included within the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans, and FDA on-farm inspections.

-The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will also be included in the final bill.  These amendments, intended to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation, pertain to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA will be instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods.  FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify, or audit those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food safety issue involved mixtures only.

-The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers will also be part of the final bill.  The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers. In order to comport with the FDA-specific nature of the overall bill, the farmer training grant program will be provided via a memorandum of understanding between FDA and USDA, but will then be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.  As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510, funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.

-The effort championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms will also be in the manager’s package.  It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.

Negotiations are ongoing over an amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill, according to NSAC’s update. “We hope to be able to report on the results of that discussion in the coming days,” the group said.

Strong disagreement over small farm exemptions

The most contentious amendment in consideration, proposed by Senator John Tester (D-MT), to exempt food facilities with under $500,000 gross sales from preventative control plan requirements, and traceback and recordkeeping provisions, will not be part of the manager’s amendment, but will be debated separately when the bill is brought to the floor.

Tester’s language has strong support within the sustainable ag community. In the past week alone, dozens of different action alerts were circulating the internet urging family farmers and supporters of the burgeoning local food movement to call their Senators on behalf of Tester’s amendment.

Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association–a group that has actively organized to press North Carolina Senators to support changes to the bill–said Tester’s amendment is the “simplest solution for promoting a healthy, safe food supply.” But, many in the food safety community dispute the claim that locally grown, sustainable food is safer, and want to see new federal regulations apply to all producers, regardless of size.

“The concept that small, local, organic equals safe and that large, global, multinational is unsafe is wrong,” said David Acheson, former associate commissioner of foods at FDA, adding that he has seen no solid evidence that unconventionally-grown food is microbiologically safer. Acheson thinks Tester’s proposal goes too far. “It is asking for trouble…and it is not sound public health policy,” he said.

Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food & Water Watch, also expressed very strong reservations about the proposal, pointing out that, based on the 2007 Agriculture Census released by the USDA last year, nearly 95 percent of domestic farms would be exempt.

Corbo also noted the exemption could have unintended consequences on the safety of imported food. “If you exempt domestic farms that earn below $500,000 annual income from the bill’s provisions, you would also have to exempt any foreign farm below that income level as well–so cheap and unsafe imports could enter our food supply,” he said.

Many of the key groups in the Make Our Food Safe coalition, a campaign made up of consumer, public health, and industry groups pushing for the passage of a strong FDA food safety bill, chose not to comment on the changes until final language is agreed upon.

David Plunkett, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who is familiar with the negotiations, indicated yesterday that Senate staff are continuing to work on a compromise. “Stakeholders have been briefed on the broad outlines of the agreements and it appears the offices negotiating the bill want to find good agreements that preserve the bill’s public health focus while addressing any legitimate concerns of small and sustainable agriculture,” he said.

Both the House and Senate version of the bill–the House passed a food

safety reform bill in July–give FDA mandatory recall authority, require more frequent inspections,

and ask food facilities to implement food safety plans.

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Once again, we have the apologists for S 510 misrepresenting the impact of not only their proposals but also of the proposals of the local, healthy food movement. And, this article allows 2 separate issues to be conflated.
    First, it accurately describes Tester’s amendment except that it never states clearly that it only impacts the new Sec. 419 Hazard Analysis & Risk-based Preventive Control (HARPC plans) requirements when it clearly moves the regulation of small processors, packers, distributors and storage facilities to State regulation just as the FDA’s Final Egg Rule did with farmers having less than 3000 layers. It does NOT exempt them from regulation it exempts them from this one completely inappropriate reg. HARPC plans are a variation of HACCP plans that have NEVER been proven to work. Furthermore, Dr. William Sperber, the most responsible for the spread of the very effective HACCP system for highly processed food, argued over 8 years ago that similar legislated plans were not working and would never work from farm to table.
    The exemption of small processors, packers, distributors and storage facilities has nothing to do with what Dr. David Acheson or Tony Corbo said. They are talking about S 510′s Sec. 419 Standards for Produce Safety.
    You do not note that Dr. Acheson now works for a company that will clearly benefit from S 510/HR 2749 nor that the day before yesterday, he and his employer “counted their chickens before they were hatched.” See http://leavittpartners.com/news/is-fda-about-to-get-significant-new-food-safety-legislative-authority/). I will be happy to forward the marketing piece that touts “ScoringAg has all necessary Electronic Records and is working for every foodhandler for many years.”
    Tony Corbo’s comment is dissembling worthy of a venal politician. As everyone at the Make Our Food Safe coalition (MOFS) knows, it is clearly impossible to uniformly enforce any rules under Sec. 105 Standards for Produce Safety because the US has over 2,000,000 farms. So, if we can’t inspect our own farms, how could we possibly expect to inspect the completely uncountable farms from which we are importing food?
    Second, as is also well known by MOFS, the global industrial food system with the aid of individuals within MOFS or supported by MOFS (e.g., Mike Taylor) have carefully crafted the WTO and other global agreements including the definition of HACCP to allow them to exempt themselves from US regulations.
    Third, S 510′s new Sec. 419′s subsections (a), (b) and (c) clearly outline the provision for variances including to entire foreign countries. For example, this might be a way to obtain an exemption for CA and AZ Leafy Green Marketing Agreement signatories. Please note that agreement was proposed by some of the most powerful members of United Fresh Produce which supports S 510. Hmm.
    These 3 facts combine as point #6 of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s position opposing S 510. S 510, as currently written, gives a clear advantage to imported food over domestic food which is the opposite of the impression given by Mr. Corbo.
    I ask that FSN alter this article so that Sen. Tester’s amendments are not falsely characterized by Dr. Acheson’s and Mr. Corbo’s comments.

  • Larry Andrew

    My wife is one who was poisoned by the PCA and Clif bars. We are in favor of improved food safety that includes significant accountability provisions. Anyone care to comment as to what sanctions for poisoning people are included?

  • Harry Hamil

    Once again, we have the apologists for S 510 misrepresenting the impact of not only their proposals but also of the proposals of the local, healthy food movement. And, this article allows 2 separate issues to be conflated.
    First, it accurately describes Tester’s amendment except that it never states clearly that it only impacts the new Sec. 419 Hazard Analysis & Risk-based Preventive Control (HARPC plans) requirements when it clearly moves the regulation of small processors, packers, distributors and storage facilities to State regulation just as the FDA’s Final Egg Rule did with farmers having less than 3000 layers. It does NOT exempt them from regulation it exempts them from this one completely inappropriate reg. HARPC plans are a variation of HACCP plans that have NEVER been proven to work. Furthermore, Dr. William Sperber, the most responsible for the spread of the very effective HACCP system for highly processed food, argued over 8 years ago that similar legislated plans were not working and would never work from farm to table.
    The exemption of small processors, packers, distributors and storage facilities has nothing to do with what Dr. David Acheson or Tony Corbo said. They are talking about S 510′s Sec. 419 Standards for Produce Safety.
    You do not note that Dr. Acheson now works for a company that will clearly benefit from S 510/HR 2749 nor that the day before yesterday, he and his employer “counted their chickens before they were hatched.” See http://leavittpartners.com/news/is-fda-about-to-get-significant-new-food-safety-legislative-authority/). I will be happy to forward the marketing piece that touts “ScoringAg has all necessary Electronic Records and is working for every foodhandler for many years.”
    Tony Corbo’s comment is dissembling worthy of a venal politician. As everyone at the Make Our Food Safe coalition (MOFS) knows, it is clearly impossible to uniformly enforce any rules under Sec. 105 Standards for Produce Safety because the US has over 2,000,000 farms. So, if we can’t inspect our own farms, how could we possibly expect to inspect the completely uncountable farms from which we are importing food?
    Second, as is also well known by MOFS, the global industrial food system with the aid of individuals within MOFS or supported by MOFS (e.g., Mike Taylor) have carefully crafted the WTO and other global agreements including the definition of HACCP to allow them to exempt themselves from US regulations.
    Third, S 510′s new Sec. 419′s subsections (a), (b) and (c) clearly outline the provision for variances including to entire foreign countries. For example, this might be a way to obtain an exemption for CA and AZ Leafy Green Marketing Agreement signatories. Please note that agreement was proposed by some of the most powerful members of United Fresh Produce which supports S 510. Hmm.
    These 3 facts combine as point #6 of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s position opposing S 510. S 510, as currently written, gives a clear advantage to imported food over domestic food which is the opposite of the impression given by Mr. Corbo.
    I ask that FSN alter this article so that Sen. Tester’s amendments are not falsely characterized by Dr. Acheson’s and Mr. Corbo’s comments.

  • http://foodinamerica.wordpress.com Patrick

    Harry,
    As I understand it, Tester’s amendments would modify three sections of the bill, all with related effects. I’ll try to summarize those effects and my own thoughts below, but do let me know if you think I’ve also “misrepresented” the proposals.
    Section 419, the section of the bill that creates new standards for produce safety, would be modified to grant a full exception from all such standards for farmers whose direct sales to restaurants, consumers, hotels, and institutions exceeds all of their other sales. For such farms, regulation would default to the states. Now I’m going to assume that this would somehow be restricted to legitimately small farms (e.g. you couldn’t be exempted just because McDonald’s buys all of your gazillions of pounds of potatoes). The farms we’re talking about here are the sort that sell most of their produce through CSA’s and farmers markets, by selling directly to locally oriented restaurants, and – and this is the one that worries me most – to institutions like schools. I think some consumer advocates justifiably worry that this sort of exemption would create a loophole in the effort to ensure the food in our schools is safe – an effort that is only finally gathering steam after decades of neglect. I have no fundamental problem with leaving regulation of small farms to the states (despite a quite mixed record of food safety regulation at the state level), but I am wary of anything that weakens our ability to guarantee safe food in schools.
    The amendments would also modify the section dealing with traceability for fruits and vegetables. Under the Senator’s plan, farms with an adjusted gross income of less than $500,000 each year would be exempt from whatever improved traceback requirements result from the law. The farms would instead be subject to the “one up, one down” requirement under which they would have to keep records of their products one step up and down the supply chain. traceability is a huge issue in food safety. Just look at the recent recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), where it took weeks for officials to identify all of the affected products. Requiring producers to keep track of where there products come from and go to is a vital element of a strong food safety system. Now obviously the argument is that these small farmers are not producing food with long supply chains to begin with, so the requirements would mandate an unnecessary record-keeping burden. I’m not a farmer, so I’m not sure about this, but given that we are talking about small operations with short supply chains, how much of a burden could this really be? Enough to delay the inevitable movement in this country toward a more traceable, accountable food system?
    The final section affected by Tester’s amendments would be the section establishing HACCP and preventative controls requirements for food processing facilities. In much the same way that Tester wants small farms to be exempt from federal regulation, he wants other small facilities (again those with less than $500,000 in adjusted gross income) to be exempt from new requirements that the law would establish. Again, I have no real problem with state-level regulation of many products, but it raises some important questions. Despite the small-scale of the facilities in question, there is nothing to keep these facilities from selling their products across state lines, which means that consumers will have to take it on faith that the laws in the state where a product is made are sufficiently rigorous. The reality is that state laws are a mixed bag, and I don’t know that interstate consumers would be adequately protected under Tester’s plan. If I order a box of chocolates over the internet from a small producer halfway across the country, I want to be confident that those chocolates were produced under safe conditions, but I don’t want to (and shouldn’t have to) look up what that state’s HACCP requirements are just to get this peace of mind.
    So how’s that? Reply here, or come have a look at a slightly longer treatment on my blog.
    Patrick, http://foodinamerica.wordpress.com

  • Doc Mudd

    Sen. Tester’s detestable amendment, exempting some 95% of our farms from implementing effective preventive practices and from record keeping essential to traceability, exposes the motives and fears of its most vocal supporters. One can easily imagine why certain producers of your food and mine loath adopting sanitary production methods and why they fear being held accountable for the tested safety of the food they produce. Guilty as sin of substandard and unhygienic practices, either intermittently or as a routine purely as a cost-cutting measure in their businesses. They recognize that enforced cleanliness and prevention could slightly reduce their profits and they anticipate traceability will justifiably place culpability at their doorstep. Let’s reject Tester’s giant loophole and clean up our food system – all of it – to finally get a handle on food poisoning.

  • Karen Wheeler

    I am one of thosesmall farm operators and I take issue with the ones who state that those of us who have some opposition to this across the board law are just trying to get away with poisoning the populous and are wanting to keep things the same.
    What really pushes my buttons on this is the fact that a lot of us will be regulated out of fqarming period, simply because we cannot afford the expensive equipment and labling that is being foisted on us.
    To me it is not a cleanliness issue but one of survival at all.
    I can be perfectly happy with reporting all the pertinent information and subjecting my operation to inspection, no big deal. But if I have to mortgage the farm, that is now free and clear, just to buy the labeling and packaging that some large agribusiness might not even notice at the bank, then I am screwed.
    I am taking regulated food safety classes and will get certified if I can foot the bill. I haven’t even sold the first carrot yet. I have 5 acres of hydroponics and field crops planned and will be trying to become a CSA for my locality. How in Sam Hill do I write off the same things the big boys do? It ain’t gonna happen.
    There needs to be a point where it cuts off and the smaller guy can get a real live person to determine if they are in compliance, not just a high water mark that is already way over our heads. One size does NOT fit all. I am not Walmart.
    I think the cut off point mentioned here is way too high, it needs to come way down for the cut because most of us are lucky to do $50,000 , much less than the $500,000 that is mentioned in the article. gee whiz folks, come back into the real world here!!!!
    Small farmers are the operations that the big boys laugh at, not the enemy you are portraying here with all your brew haha.
    Leave the office and put down the mouse and see who is gonna get squashed here.

  • TomSaxon

    I think something many people are missing here is that the bill effectively centralizes our national food manufacture and distribution system. That is an incredibly bad idea because it minimizes the degree to which any individual can be self-sufficient and less dependent on the centralized system, and all centralized systems tend to eventually fail in catastrophic ways (see our current economy). My family currently gets grows ALL of the produce that we use and it saves us a ton of money in these tough times. I don’t understand why the Government would want us to be less self-sufficient and more dependent on centralized systems when the failure of those same systems are to blame for the food-poisoning problems of the past.

  • Doc Mudd

    The bill in no way “centralizes our national food manufacture and distribution system”. In fact, it safeguards the public health as a wave of conscientious small, decentralized food producers prepare to introduce their quality products into our national food system. It sets basic standards for cleanliness and safety that will reassure paying consumers and that will safely and surely grow the market for unique foods of all sorts.
    .
    Bill S.510 paves the way for unparalleled diversification in the gastronomic marketplace by assuring the cleanliness, safety and wholesomeness of all foods offered for sale to discerning consumers – no more unfounded nonsense claims of “healthy” for foods of dubious origin. Elitist foodies should be wetting themselves out of sheer ecstacy over the promise of this long deferred development. It is noteworthy that it is not foodies, but shadowy purveyors of untested and presumably substandard fare who are emitting such a bogus and distracting stink!!
    .
    Bill S.510 in no way intereferes with anyone who is growing their own food to be consumed by their own family. Only when growers commercialize their operations and solicit money from the public for their product does S.510 come into play to assure the safety and security of the paying customer (that’s most of us who choose not to grow our own).
    .
    There is certainly no threat to “self-sufficiency”. In point of fact S.510 reflects no opinion on the subject. Rather, the interest of the public health is protected as competitive commercial free enterprise emerges along diverse channels outside the centralized, scrutinized and too often & too spuriously villianized mainstream (another flimsy distracting tactic of fly-by-night purveyors, by the way).
    .
    The deliberate misinterpretation of the intent of S.510 knows no bounds, it seems. So much of the vapid criticism and feigned fear is transparently disingenuous and openly self-serving. How sad and pathetic that most critics obviously lack true confidence in the verifiable wholesomeness of their own products to speak for itself. The detractors obviously fear having to “put up or shut up”. And that speaks volumes of their intent.

  • redmesa

    That is what the Feds want you to think…that they are protecting your health. Their actual intentions are to take our personal rights of self-sufficiency away. Big corporations, like Monsanto, are behind this bill so that the world’s populations are required to purchase their seed products and consume their GMO foodstuffs. GMO’s are proven to cause human and animal health issues.
    The corporations are annihilating their competition and taking your food choice freedoms away. And Big Brother is putting a thumb down on the peasants and sending us back into the middle ages and the caste system.

  • http://www.yahoo.com KarenT

    Hey Doc, don’t forget that the 5% of farms that would be affected are over 50%+ of the food America consumes. There are only a few corporations that own the majority of the food chain.