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An Update on the Senate Food Safety Bill

Food safety and public health advocates are ramping up pressure on lawmakers to move stalled food safety legislation as the Senate only has a few weeks left to act before August recess. 

The Make Our Food Safe coalition recently released polls targeting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), with each statewide poll showing over 80 percent approval for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). The coalition also ran ads in local newspapers featuring constituents who have battled serious foodborne illness. 

Consumers Union, a key member of the coalition, released a poll early his week showing 80 percent of Americans want Congress to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandatory recall authority, a provision that is part of both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

President Obama also weighed in last week, speaking out on food safety reform for the first time in over a year by issuing a statement in support of the Senate bill, noting that it “[a]ddresses longstanding challenges in the food safety and defense

system by promoting a prevention-oriented approach to the safety of our

food supply.”  

s510-featured.jpgThe House passed its version with broad bipartisan support a year ago this month and by all accounts the Senate version–which is similar, but less comprehensive, and does not contain a fee provision–has broad bipartisan support. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously approved S. 510 in mid-November, and though the bill is a priority for the White House, it has not been brought up for a vote.

For months, the delay was due to the all consuming and extremely partisan health care reform debate, but now the bill faces three problems: time, BPA, and small farm concerns.

Time

The first, and arguably most significant, challenge for S. 510 is, simply, time. With only a few weeks left in this work period, before August recess–and with a heated mid-term election cycle on the horizon–the Senate will wrangle with, among other priorities, a Supreme Court nomination, wall street reform, climate change, jobless benefits, and child nutrition reauthorization. There is simply not time to address all of these issues.

In addition to finding time to bring S. 510 to the floor for a vote, there would need to be time for a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions and gain approval from both chambers.

Though the House and Senate versions are similar, the differences are significant enough to warrant serious, and potentially time-consuming, debate. For example, the House version contains a flat $500 facility registration fee, regardless of size or income, to help pay for the bill, and the Senate version does not contain any fees.

According to Ferd Hoefner, the director of policy for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the fees are a “make or break issue” for small farmers. Hoefner sees limited time to reconcile the bills.

“Even if they pass the bill next week, I don’t see how they finish,” said Hoefner in an interview. “I don’t know that there is enough time to have a real conference.”  

BPA 

The second problem is Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) effort to attach a ban on bisphenol-A (BPA) in food packaging to the bill.  Feinstein, and dozens of consumer and health groups, see BPA as a critical public health issue, as the chemical has been linked to a slew of health problems, ranging from breast cancer to heart disease to neurological deficiencies. The FDA announced it has “some concern” about the chemical in January, but continues to review the growing body of scientific research on the issue.

As Food Safety News previously reported, major industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), who currently support S. 510, have pledged to oppose the bill if a BPA ban is part of the final package. A ban would also draw new enemies to S. 510, like plastics and chemical interest groups.

Consumer and public health groups who support both the food safety bill and banning the industrial chemical from food containers, however, remain confident that a compromise will be reached.

The Environmental Working Group, for example, supports both efforts, and hopes the conflict can be resolved. “The food and chemical industries should not be threatening to defeat the food safety bill, which will allow vital advancements in food safety,” said Leeann Brown, a spokeswoman for the group, who added that BPA is at the top of the organization’s list of chemicals of concern.

Consumers Union is in the same boat, they see improving the food safety system and banning BPA from food containers as two important public health priorities and hope Senators will find compromise.   

Senate staff express confidence that the issue will be ironed out. “We are still confident what we can get this bill to the floor this work period,” said Max Gleischman, a spokesman for Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the primary sponsor of the legislation.

Durbin and other key senators are working with Feinstein to come to a resolution. It is unclear whether lawmakers have been given a timeline for when an agreement must be reached.

“A little leadership by the leaders would resolve the problem,” says a source familiar with the process. “Until someone [sets a deadline] both sides will continue to push to get as much as they can. Feinstein has been around a long time.  She is a tough negotiator and is good at getting some action on a tough issue.”

Small farm concerns

Though the small and sustainable agriculture community has won significant changes to the Senate bill, in an effort to lessen the impact on small farms, there is one provision that remains a problem: the Tester-Hagan amendment. The amendment, originally proposed by Jon Tester (D-MT), which now has Kay Hagan’s (D-NC) full support, exempts facilities with under $500,000 gross sales from preventative control plan requirements, and traceback and recordkeeping provisions.

The measure has broad support in the small and sustainable agriculture community, but is at odds with food safety advocates and food industry groups who take issue with blanket exemptions.

Staff continue to work on language that may be palatable for both sides, but no solid compromise has been reached.  It is still unclear whether a version of the Tester-Hagan amendment might be included in the manager’s package.

“There’s been lots and lots of new language,” said Hoefner. “I don’t have a sense of how close they are to a resolution, but we’re creeping closer.”

“It certainly seems like we’re in the ‘now or never’ session,” said Hoefner, noting that if the Senate does not act in the 111th Congress, the whole process starts over. 

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    I urge every reader of this article to read the linked material on the polls.
    Even the Make Our Food Safe coalition does not claim, as Food Safety News does, that “each statewide poll show[s] over 80 percent approval for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510).” Rather, the press releases only claim, for example, that “The vast majority of Kentucky voters – 87 percent – support Congress passing legislation that would improve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) oversight of the nation’s food supply.” At no place in the poll does it mention S 510 by name; rather, it only refers to it with phrases like, “this new food safety legislation.”
    Because these are political push polls, they only asked these questions of “likely voters”–an increasingly small subset of Americans.
    The poll summarized the “new food safety legislation” as follows:
    “Congress is considering legislation to strengthen food safety standards and better protect consumers from contaminated food. This legislation would increase the frequency of government inspections of food facilities, create a tracing system that make it easier to trace back contaminated food to its original source, give the FDA the ability to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated food and certify food imported from other countries was produced with safety standards as high as those in the United States.”
    How’s that for one-sided, incomplete oversimplification? How could anyone not say “yes?” If I didn’t know the particulars of the legislation, I would have answered “yes” to that question! And I oppose it.
    In addition, the poll described us, opponents, as follows:
    “Opponents of the proposal say this is a tax on the food industry and creates unnecessary government bureaucracy. Food companies already meet strict standards because it is in their best interests to produce safe food. Local food producers will struggle to afford these new requirements and many may be driven out of business. Meanwhile, this will drive up the cost of a basic necessity for consumers in the middle of the worst recession in decades.”
    Give me a break. Name 3 of the hundreds of groups involved that have even said the first sentence. That is a total red herring.
    It fails to mention our complaints that the FDA talks of needed authority while at the same time asserting last April in a lawsuit on the restriction to interstate sale of raw milk that it already has every authority requested except mandatory recall. No one objects to mandatory recall as long as the FDA will be held responsible for the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs growers, packers and distributors with its errors and their collateral damage (e.g., 2008 salmonella saintpaul outbreak).
    Now contrast that with the assurance under the supporters’ statement, “We can protect small farmers and help them stay in business while at the same time making our food safer.” It is true supporters say this unfortunately it is misleading or false in all cases. The easiest example is the HACCP-style plans required of ALL food facilities. There are no simple versions for small producers. If required, they are expensive. Pugs Leap Farm, a goat dairy in Healdsburg, CA, is closing because its careful estimate of the cost of the ADDITIONAL is $50,000/year!
    S 510 remains a tragically flawed, poorly conceived attempt to improve food safety and needs to die before it has a huge long lasting negative impact on the availability of healthy food.
    The primary problems of food safety in the US are due to incompetence at the FDA, FSIS and CDC. Fortunately, several state food safety regulators are doing a great job but it can only partially offset the poor performance at the federal level.

  • Our company Top 10 Produce LLC provides traceability for small farms, but I firmly believe small farms should be exempt from this bill. I have heard the arguments to the contrary for a year and, frankly, they don’t hold water.

  • Harry Hamil

    I urge every reader of this article to read the linked material on the polls.
    Even the Make Our Food Safe coalition does not claim, as Food Safety News does, that “each statewide poll show[s] over 80 percent approval for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510).” Rather, the press releases only claim, for example, that “The vast majority of Kentucky voters – 87 percent – support Congress passing legislation that would improve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) oversight of the nation’s food supply.” At no place in the poll does it mention S 510 by name; rather, it only refers to it with phrases like, “this new food safety legislation.”
    Because these are political push polls, they only asked these questions of “likely voters”–an increasingly small subset of Americans.
    The poll summarized the “new food safety legislation” as follows:
    “Congress is considering legislation to strengthen food safety standards and better protect consumers from contaminated food. This legislation would increase the frequency of government inspections of food facilities, create a tracing system that make it easier to trace back contaminated food to its original source, give the FDA the ability to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated food and certify food imported from other countries was produced with safety standards as high as those in the United States.”
    How’s that for one-sided, incomplete oversimplification? How could anyone not say “yes?” If I didn’t know the particulars of the legislation, I would have answered “yes” to that question! And I oppose it.
    In addition, the poll described us, opponents, as follows:
    “Opponents of the proposal say this is a tax on the food industry and creates unnecessary government bureaucracy. Food companies already meet strict standards because it is in their best interests to produce safe food. Local food producers will struggle to afford these new requirements and many may be driven out of business. Meanwhile, this will drive up the cost of a basic necessity for consumers in the middle of the worst recession in decades.”
    Give me a break. Name 3 of the hundreds of groups involved that have even said the first sentence. That is a total red herring.
    It fails to mention our complaints that the FDA talks of needed authority while at the same time asserting last April in a lawsuit on the restriction to interstate sale of raw milk that it already has every authority requested except mandatory recall. No one objects to mandatory recall as long as the FDA will be held responsible for the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs growers, packers and distributors with its errors and their collateral damage (e.g., 2008 salmonella saintpaul outbreak).
    Now contrast that with the assurance under the supporters’ statement, “We can protect small farmers and help them stay in business while at the same time making our food safer.” It is true supporters say this unfortunately it is misleading or false in all cases. The easiest example is the HACCP-style plans required of ALL food facilities. There are no simple versions for small producers. If required, they are expensive. Pugs Leap Farm, a goat dairy in Healdsburg, CA, is closing because its careful estimate of the cost of the ADDITIONAL is $50,000/year!
    S 510 remains a tragically flawed, poorly conceived attempt to improve food safety and needs to die before it has a huge long lasting negative impact on the availability of healthy food.
    The primary problems of food safety in the US are due to incompetence at the FDA, FSIS and CDC. Fortunately, several state food safety regulators are doing a great job but it can only partially offset the poor performance at the federal level.

  • Our company Top 10 Produce LLC provides traceability for small farms, but I firmly believe small farms should be exempt from this bill. I have heard the arguments to the contrary for a year and, frankly, they don’t hold water.

  • Doc Mudd

    Q: Are “small farms” (whatever those are) exempt from ordinary food safety risks?
    A: No. Bacteria populate all farms, large and small.
    Obvious Conclusion: “Small farms”, since they are every bit as risk prone as any food producer, should absolutely NOT be exempted from S.510 and sensible requirements to clean up and be held accountable.
    Common Sense Opinion: No worries, then, from inspections…if a “small producer’s” standards of cleanliness and hygiene are as high as most claim they already are/always have been. So, it’s about the grubby profits, then? That’s all? Just like the big, mega-corporations? How very ironic. Anti-corporation zealots whining about erosion of their own grubby ‘bottom line profits’. Hypocrisy? Sorta looks like it.

  • Doc,
    Anti-corporation zealots who are not afraid to sign our real names and to state our real unbiased opinions. Even when those opinions may have a negative impact on the bottom line.
    How does a provider of traceability to small local growers benefit by having small local growers being exempted from mandatory traceability requirements.
    No common sense and a coward to boot.
    Or is your name really Mudd?
    -JB

  • hhamil

    Once again, the person hiding behind the pen name “Doc Mudd” shows his/her ignorance and her/his bias. S/he answers his/her own question misleadingly and then concludes that because “bacteria populate all farms, large and small” “‘Small farms’…are every bit as risk prone as any food producer…” This is absolutely false reasoning.
    All bacteria, “Doc Mudd,” don’t cause illness and a certain minimum number are usually required to infect a person. Thus, the first question is, “Do ALL pathogens populate all farms, large and small?” The answer is an unequivocal “No.” The second question is, “Are the number sufficient to infect a person “populat[ing] all farms, large and small? Once again, the answer is an unequivocal “no.” There are clearly a lot more E. coli O157:H7 in feed lots than there are in pasture raised farms where the cattle were all born on that farm or a similar farm.
    Then, “Doc Mudd” tries to tar us with us being all “about the grubby profits” as a way to avoid the science discussion which he otherwise calls for. What crap!
    And, of course, he hasn’t responded to a single point that either John Bailey or I made.
    It is such a shame that Food Safety New permits her/him to poison genuine discussion while hiding his/her real identity.

  • Doc,
    Anti-corporation zealots who are not afraid to sign our real names and to state our real unbiased opinions. Even when those opinions may have a negative impact on the bottom line.
    How does a provider of traceability to small local growers benefit by having small local growers being exempted from mandatory traceability requirements.
    No common sense and a coward to boot.
    Or is your name really Mudd?
    -JB

  • Harry,
    I respectfully disagree regarding Food Safety News allowing someone to publish anonymously. I applaud their decision to let all points be heard, even if Doc Mudd chooses to use a pen name. Besides, the pen name tells you more about what kind of person this is than a real name would.
    Doc Mudd was a racist co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACWmudd.htm
    Anyone who would purposefully choose a name like that has as much credibility as Doc Mudd himself would have with me.
    Less than zero. I will leave it to other leaders to make up their own minds, and to to their own research both about who Doc Mudd is and was, and about the exemptions for small farms.
    The more research people do the less appealing their story is.

  • Harry Hamil

    Once again, the person hiding behind the pen name “Doc Mudd” shows his/her ignorance and her/his bias. S/he answers his/her own question misleadingly and then concludes that because “bacteria populate all farms, large and small” “‘Small farms’…are every bit as risk prone as any food producer…” This is absolutely false reasoning.
    All bacteria, “Doc Mudd,” don’t cause illness and a certain minimum number are usually required to infect a person. Thus, the first question is, “Do ALL pathogens populate all farms, large and small?” The answer is an unequivocal “No.” The second question is, “Are the number sufficient to infect a person “populat[ing] all farms, large and small? Once again, the answer is an unequivocal “no.” There are clearly a lot more E. coli O157:H7 in feed lots than there are in pasture raised farms where the cattle were all born on that farm or a similar farm.
    Then, “Doc Mudd” tries to tar us with us being all “about the grubby profits” as a way to avoid the science discussion which he otherwise calls for. What crap!
    And, of course, he hasn’t responded to a single point that either John Bailey or I made.
    It is such a shame that Food Safety New permits her/him to poison genuine discussion while hiding his/her real identity.

  • Harry,
    I respectfully disagree regarding Food Safety News allowing someone to publish anonymously. I applaud their decision to let all points be heard, even if Doc Mudd chooses to use a pen name. Besides, the pen name tells you more about what kind of person this is than a real name would.
    Doc Mudd was a racist co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USACWmudd.htm
    Anyone who would purposefully choose a name like that has as much credibility as Doc Mudd himself would have with me.
    Less than zero. I will leave it to other leaders to make up their own minds, and to to their own research both about who Doc Mudd is and was, and about the exemptions for small farms.
    The more research people do the less appealing their story is.

  • Doc Mudd

    Oh, oh – the jig is up! You guys really nailed me! Turns out I’m not famous like Meryl Streep or Jenny McCarthy, so my life experience and learned scientific opinions cannot be relied upon for sincerity or accuracy by your estimation. Boo hoo.
    Sort of proves my point, though, doesn’t it? I’m just one of about 300 million food consumers in America whose safety and welfare you two guys care absolutely nothing about, except as anonymous customers to swell your profits. Use us, trash us and lose us. We might have known you wouldn’t respect us in the morning.
    Ah, c’est la vie! At least they pretend to care about me at WalMart as they are accepting my grocery money. I’ll keep shopping there. I hear they continue to increase quality and safety requirements for their suppliers while keeping costs in line.
    Trust…but verify – that’s only good business practice, and that’s what S.510 is all about. Now that’s the smart way to “know your farmer”! Heck, I’ve learned a lot already about opponents of S.510.

  • hhamil

    Well put, John.
    I urge all readers to review the comment I just posted to today’s Food Safety News article, “Latest Fresh Express Recall a Lot Like One in May” (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/07/latest-fresh-express-recall-a-lot-like-one-in-may/).
    People and entities represented by those like “Doc Mudd” love to rant and rave about science and logic but are unwilling to actually be scientific and logical when confronted by informed responses.
    Instead, the “Doc Mudds” of the world resort to character assassination with statements like “I’m just one of about 300 million food consumers in America whose safety and welfare you two guys care absolutely nothing about, except as anonymous customers to swell your profits” and “Doc Mudd has nothing against you or your tres chic hobby farmer friends posturing and puffing to make a buck or two off gullible grocery shoppers…” (from his comment about me on “Poll: Most NV Voters Support Food Safety Bill”).
    For the record, yesterday, my wife, Elaine, and I worked our usual combined 22+ hour day growing, harvesting, packing, distributing and retailing local, healthy food here in Black Mountain, NC. And as entrepreneurs, we were able to do so for less than the minimum wage while risking everything we own in the event someone gets sick from food purchased from us due to the almost strict liability we incur by producing and selling food.
    That makes us like hundreds of others in this haven for local food that we’ve helped create here within 50 miles of where I’m sitting.
    As my name is so uncommon, it is easy to check out who I am and the accuracy of what I say about myself. Or you can write me (hhamil@buncombe.main.nc.us) and I will be happy to answer any questions and even call you on my nickel.
    “Safe” food, as that is defined by our government, is not enough. We need healthy food locally produced whenever practicable.

  • Harry Hamil

    Well put, John.
    I urge all readers to review the comment I just posted to today’s Food Safety News article, “Latest Fresh Express Recall a Lot Like One in May” (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/07/latest-fresh-express-recall-a-lot-like-one-in-may/).
    People and entities represented by those like “Doc Mudd” love to rant and rave about science and logic but are unwilling to actually be scientific and logical when confronted by informed responses.
    Instead, the “Doc Mudds” of the world resort to character assassination with statements like “I’m just one of about 300 million food consumers in America whose safety and welfare you two guys care absolutely nothing about, except as anonymous customers to swell your profits” and “Doc Mudd has nothing against you or your tres chic hobby farmer friends posturing and puffing to make a buck or two off gullible grocery shoppers…” (from his comment about me on “Poll: Most NV Voters Support Food Safety Bill”).
    For the record, yesterday, my wife, Elaine, and I worked our usual combined 22+ hour day growing, harvesting, packing, distributing and retailing local, healthy food here in Black Mountain, NC. And as entrepreneurs, we were able to do so for less than the minimum wage while risking everything we own in the event someone gets sick from food purchased from us due to the almost strict liability we incur by producing and selling food.
    That makes us like hundreds of others in this haven for local food that we’ve helped create here within 50 miles of where I’m sitting.
    As my name is so uncommon, it is easy to check out who I am and the accuracy of what I say about myself. Or you can write me (hhamil@buncombe.main.nc.us) and I will be happy to answer any questions and even call you on my nickel.
    “Safe” food, as that is defined by our government, is not enough. We need healthy food locally produced whenever practicable.

  • Doc Mudd

    “…yesterday, my wife, Elaine, and I worked our usual combined 22+ hour day…” Oh, blah, blah, blah, whine, whine, whine. Why do I (or anyone else, for that matter) owe you a living for sorting common wormy ears of sweet corn into dozens today?
    A mere 22 hours by two workers, an easy eleven hour day each, is nothing for any dedicated entrepreneur. What nominates you to any special awards for service and dedication? Your fabled “Black Mountain, NC” sounds like an isolated microcosm of affluent entitlement.
    Cry us a river, Harry, but forgive us if we have our own busy professional schedules to attend to.

  • Deanna

    Doc says it all, as he is a consumer, but yet he seems to know little about bacteria dangers in food. The facts are the dangerous strains of food poisoning are introduced by feeding cattle their unusual diets and mass crowding and unhealthy conditions.
    The facts here are, the governement is producing a charrade for the consumer, that they are taking measures to protect, poor people like Doc who are not aware of what is put into their food product that makes it unsafe. The reason for that, is becuase they have turned a blind eye to dangerous mass production agriculture tactics by the big companies, and to show their “concern” they are introducing this new bill.
    The facts, are, “more inspections”, and tracing food, does not protect you. These protocols do not prevent food dangers, they are a reactions to a food danger. Tracing the supply, does not prevent the danger from being provented into the food in the first place.
    If they really cared about “food saftey”, they would address the tons of dangerous aspects of food, such as dangerous growth hormones and unregulated amounts of chemicals being dumped onto your bowl of cornflakes. Bad raising practices by the mass producers is the number one cause of the infected food supply. Example, to save costs, big farms have fed animals other dead ground up animals, introducing bad prions into the food supply, that yes, humans can(and have) become aflicted with. Example, mass-producers change the natural diet of the livestock, which in turn causes forms of bacterial infections humans can be infected with; then in turn are treated with anti -biotics that in turn, create a stronger strain of an already deadly bacteria. In the case of, crowded animals>causes injuries>causes infections>causes antibiotic use>causes more deadly food poisoning outbreaks…you getting the idea yet?
    Yes, I know you are a consumer, but food production has become beyong simple, it’s become quite confusing and dangerous to simple consumers who put their faith in Walmart and the government for their food saftey. But a little responsibility toward feeding yourself would go a long way, and educating yourself on whats really in your food would help you out greatly.
    If they want safe food, why are they not addressing the many dangerous hydronated oils, food additives and chemicals. Do you, Doc, as a consumer, know you have eaten irradiated meat, the bovine growth hormone, and do you know what it does for your health? Whats in your soda pop that damages your health that our government deems safe for consumption? If you aren’t looking into what’s in the food you eat, you know nothing about food saftey or how it should be carried out.
    This new farm bill will do nothing to produce safe food, just a meek effort to find the tainted food after the fact. Food produced in smaller operations, have more time to tend to safe practices and quality conrol, that is a fact. Mass produced food sits in unsafe conditions across the US and world, and then often is gassed for your consumtption right before it hits your grubby little hands. Gee, its a safe bet you don’t know what foods those are.
    Most other countries standards of food, are much higher than ours. Thats why so many countries are fighting to kick us out from their food chains, right down to our frakenstein seed companies.
    This new farm bill does nothing to address the real dangers of food. I as a consumer, educate myself and know where my food comes from, to the best of my knowledge. I would trust a tomato that came right out of the neighbours garden with chickens running in it than the one from 3,000 miles away that was chemically over-dosed, put in unsanitary machining facilities, then stored for months, then gased before hitting the shelf. Acording to the new farm bill, these are still safe measures to practice as far as I can see. You ask for more government to keep your food “safe?”, I think we can all see what a good job they have doen so far considering there are already abundance of laws that have failed to do so. We don’t need more regulation, what we need sir, are deregulation to encourage the honest small farmers to come back and produce us real some real food.
    You sir,Doc, and everyone one behind this food bill, are FoodHiltlers. More chemicals too ya, I hope you eat GMO corn often.