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Small Farms Gain From Compromise on S. 510

Though the recently-released Senate food safety bill didn’t include a controversial bisphenol-A ban or an amendment by Jon Tester (D-MT) to exempt small producers from certain measures, the package did include several amendments aimed at easing the regulatory burden on small-scale farms and food facilities.

The manager’s package for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), released by a bipartisan group of Senators late last week, is the result of “a long and arduous set of negotiations,” according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the group leading the effort to tailor the legislation to prevent unintended harm to the burgeoning sustainable, local, small-scale food movement.

farmer-tomatoes-featured.jpg“Most sustainable agriculture and family farm groups think the Senate bill is a very significant improvement over the companion bill passed by the House of Representatives (HR 2749) last year,” said the coalition in response to the latest version of the legislation. “We’ve been able to help make substantial improvements in the Senate bill through the [Committee] markup and in changes that will be adopted as part of the manager’s amendment when the bill comes to the Senate floor.” 

According to the group, the new draft includes the following favorable changes for small-scale, sustainable agriculture:

-The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms. 

It will provide the Food and Drug Administration 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) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation. 

The Bennet language pertains to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill.  FDA is instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and to 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. 

The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers.  The program will 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 amendment championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms.

It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.

-An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill that will exempt food that is direct marketed from farmers to consumers or to grocery stores and exempt food that has labeling that preserves the identity of the farm that produced the food. 

The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well as one step forward.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups continue to push for the inclusion of the Tester amendment, which would exempt certain food facilities with under $500,000 in gross annual sales from preventative control plan requirements and exempt direct-market farmers from the coming produce safety regulations. The measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), has been the subject of intense negotiations, but was ultimately not included in the final manager’s package.

Carol Tucker-Foreman, a fellow at the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Polity Institute, said last Thursday she was surprised that Tester’s amendment wasn’t included. She believes portions of the language will ultimately be added to the Senate bill.

“People don’t want to hurt small farmers and farmers markets, but they also don’t want to keep getting sick,” said Tucker-Foreman in an interview with Food Safety News. “If you put aside the rants, the language of the bill will be there. They are really taking the middle course here.”

If the Tester amendment is added, NSAC says they will support the Senate bill. “However, we strongly oppose the companion House measure, and stand ready to defend the Senate bill in conference with the House should that prove necessary,” the group said in a statement.
 
Senate staff are also circulating a document, the S. 510 – FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Small Farm and Small Business Guide, which highlights a series of points addressing concerns over burdensome one-size-fits-all regulations.

With the bipartisan package ready to go, many food safety advocates, industry experts, and Hill staff believe the bill could come to a vote in September when the Senate reconvenes. 

See recent Food Safety News coverage of the Senate food safety bill:

Senate Strikes Bipartisan Agreement on Food Safety August 13, 2010

Schlosser Urges Senate to Act on S.510 July 27, 2010 

An Update on the Senate Food Safety Bill July 14, 2010

Obama Nudges Senate on Food Safety Reform July 8, 2010

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Once again, “Food Safety News” has reported the position of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition as if NSAC speaks for the local, healthy food movement. It does NOT. In fact, it doesn’t even speak for the majority of its members. No single group or coalition speaks for our movement. The local, healthy food movement is made up of thousands of ad hoc groups.
    Furthermore, I strongly disagree with your statement that the NSAC is “THE (my emphasis) group leading the effort to tailor the legislation to prevent unintended harm to the burgeoning sustainable, local, small-scale food movement.”
    NSAC is only ONE coalition of groups working to amend S 510 and is clearly NOT “leading the effort.” In fact, some of the members of NSAC see its efforts as insufficient so they are working outside of it as part of the continually growing coalition of 157 organizations led by Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), the Western Organizations of Resource Councils (WORC) and Carolina Farm Stewardship Assn. (CFSA) that support the much more effective and still needed additional provisions of the Tester-Hagan amendments. For the most recent published list of these organizations, see http://farmandranchfreedom.org/sites/farmandranchfreedom.org/files/Amend-S510-June-7.pdf.
    “Food Safety News” continues to fail to mention this larger and broader coalition in its reporting of the effort to amend S 510 to protect small growers, packers, processors, distributors and retailers.
    It is important to note that FARFA and WORC–not NSAC–took on NAIS and have successfully staved it off for over 4 years.
    The idea that S 510 is a “very significant improvement” over HR 2749 is damning S 510 with faint praise. The “very significant improvement” does NOT keep the manager’s package version of S 510 from–at the very least–crippling the local, healthy food movement. LOCAL, HEALTHY FOOD MAY SURVIVE THIS NEW S 510 BUT IT WILL NO LONGER THRIVE. S 510 will force many small growers, packers, processors and distributors to follow in the footsteps of Pug’s Leap Farm of Healdsburg, CA and sell out or stay small or simply close.
    In my own case, S 510 has already cost me a year of my work life and caused me to quit expanding my local, healthy food distributorship as I know that it cannot afford the cost of complying with the additional, unneeded and totally inappropriate requirement for a Hazard Analysis & Risk-based Preventive Control (HARPC) plan. In turn, that will cripple the growth of a local blueberry producer whose entire crop I have been selling for him.

  • Steve Gilman

    The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), with state chapters in VT, NH, NY, MASS, CT, RI and NJ have been working together with a national Food Safety Task Force organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) for over two years now. The resulting work of the NSAC staff working in DC on S.510 is directly reflected in the language of the Manager’s Package described in Food Safety News. NSAC directly helped bring about the amendments giving statutory protections to farmers from the un-delineated small farm oversight powers already granted the FDA under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and their present agency initiatives such as the Guidances for (so far) leafy greens, tomatoes and melons.
    That is not to say that that NSAC is the only coalition involved in this and other surrounding small farm legislative and agency initiatives. Our congressional representatives have heard from — and responded to — a wide range of their grassroots constituents on these issues. For instance, NOFA is also a member of the National Organic Coalition (NOC) who mounted an effective opposition to USDA’s proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement at hearings that were held across the country in 2009.
    However, the voice of the small farm community of farmers and consumers was not well reflected in the House food safety bill HR2749 which passed a little over a year ago. It contains numerous one-size-fits-all elements that would heavily impact small farmers and while NSAC did manage to attach a “sense of Congress” colloquy that will instruct FDA’s rule-making process and the grassroots coalitions managed to defeat the first vote — HR2749 did indeed pass on a second, simple-majority vote. The grassroots action sent a powerful message to legislators as well as to the consumer, Big Ag and other players that the sustainable/organic ag community had taken a seat at the table.
    There now seems to be wide bipartisan Senate support for bringing S.510 to a floor vote in September. The strategy of the various grassroots coalitions is to press our individual congressional reps and senators while they’re home for Recess to support the beneficialsmall farm provisions in S.510 as the preferred alternative over the House bill when it comes to Conference Committee negotiations — and come up with a final bill that produces REAL food safety provisions without throwing our small farms under the bus in the NAME of food safety.
    Steve Gilman
    NOFA Policy Coordinator

  • Harry Hamil

    Once again, “Food Safety News” has reported the position of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition as if NSAC speaks for the local, healthy food movement. It does NOT. In fact, it doesn’t even speak for the majority of its members. No single group or coalition speaks for our movement. The local, healthy food movement is made up of thousands of ad hoc groups.
    Furthermore, I strongly disagree with your statement that the NSAC is “THE (my emphasis) group leading the effort to tailor the legislation to prevent unintended harm to the burgeoning sustainable, local, small-scale food movement.”
    NSAC is only ONE coalition of groups working to amend S 510 and is clearly NOT “leading the effort.” In fact, some of the members of NSAC see its efforts as insufficient so they are working outside of it as part of the continually growing coalition of 157 organizations led by Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), the Western Organizations of Resource Councils (WORC) and Carolina Farm Stewardship Assn. (CFSA) that support the much more effective and still needed additional provisions of the Tester-Hagan amendments. For the most recent published list of these organizations, see http://farmandranchfreedom.org/sites/farmandranchfreedom.org/files/Amend-S510-June-7.pdf.
    “Food Safety News” continues to fail to mention this larger and broader coalition in its reporting of the effort to amend S 510 to protect small growers, packers, processors, distributors and retailers.
    It is important to note that FARFA and WORC–not NSAC–took on NAIS and have successfully staved it off for over 4 years.
    The idea that S 510 is a “very significant improvement” over HR 2749 is damning S 510 with faint praise. The “very significant improvement” does NOT keep the manager’s package version of S 510 from–at the very least–crippling the local, healthy food movement. LOCAL, HEALTHY FOOD MAY SURVIVE THIS NEW S 510 BUT IT WILL NO LONGER THRIVE. S 510 will force many small growers, packers, processors and distributors to follow in the footsteps of Pug’s Leap Farm of Healdsburg, CA and sell out or stay small or simply close.
    In my own case, S 510 has already cost me a year of my work life and caused me to quit expanding my local, healthy food distributorship as I know that it cannot afford the cost of complying with the additional, unneeded and totally inappropriate requirement for a Hazard Analysis & Risk-based Preventive Control (HARPC) plan. In turn, that will cripple the growth of a local blueberry producer whose entire crop I have been selling for him.

  • Lurker

    The way the final product is shaping up with sensible food precautions according to business scope, type of crop and food product is showing doomsayers and status-quo obstructionists less concerned about food safety than the bottom line to be wrong about the legislation all along. Obviously this does not deter them from coming up with new, mostly bogus “concerns”.

  • http://www.neemtree.org Jeff Ensminger

    NEEM promotes sustainable agriculture in the burgeoning Urban Agricultural movement. We support AG in both the urban and rural sectors, sustainable and conventional. S 510 without the Tester-Hagan Amendments will seriously impact urban agriculture much the same as rural small farms.
    We have been very active here in NC to promote the small farm but I have not heard anyone make any statement about urban agriculture as if it does not exist. It is a living breathing reality that cannot be dismissed.
    Without getting into the Panama Canal story S 510 (without sufficient language in Tester-Hagan included) will negatively impact a White House driven initiative in urban and rural agriculture in the United States. Lets not be narrow minded and acknowledge that in the U.S. today, urban farms are a reality that will only continue to grow. As we seek to grow local, what is more local than in town. Some cities are replacing lost industry with inner city farms. S 510 does not consider this and without Tester Hagan will negatively impact it.
    NEEM creates urban agricultural sustainable economies (jobs) under the notion that many in the urban sector will step into the rural sector (save our farms). Our focus is and has been long term sustainable agricultural practices and we belong to many of the groups mentioned here specifically in North Carolina but also nationally. We are sustainable and as such promote sustainable ag and stewardship to the planet but we also promote small step transitional methods for conventional ag.
    In short, like everyone here we support the small farm – rural and urban, sustainable or conventiaonal.
    S 510 does not remotely consider the prospect of Urban Agriculture. The only aspects to it that do are in the Tester-Hagan Amendments.
    The United States has one industry left, agriculture. We need to protect that in every area in a safe but rational way. S 510 with the Tester Hagan amendments will protect small ag in all sectors.
    No matter how or where we farm, what our philosophy is, or who did what/when/where we must insure that this bill goes to the floor with appropriate measures that apply to the agricultural community – rural and urban.
    We must unite on the issue of Tester-Hagan as an amendment to S 510 that must be included in the bill.

  • http://www.FarmAndRanchFreedom.org Judith McGeary

    While many of the changes discussed in this article are positive, most still provide no enforceable protection for small and sustainable farms. The provisions that direct FDA to make regulations practicable or flexible, or to reduce paperwork, still ultimately allow FDA to write regulations that could drive small-scale farms and food producers out of business. The only enforceable limitation in this list is the exemption from the traceback requirements.
    For a more detailed analysis of the bill provisions, go to http://farmandranchfreedom.org/sff/S510%20memo%20FARFA.pdf
    The real question is why small-scale producers were included in this bill at all. The major foodborne illness outbreaks have all been caused by the large-scale industrialized food system; the small-scale food producers are already well-addressed by state and local health regulations.
    Consider this: Under Section 421 of the bill, foreign facilities are inspected starting with just 600 per year and gradually increasing to approximately 19,000 foreign facilities annually over a 6-year period. Based on FDA’s estimate of 210,000 foreign facilities (www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/RegistrationofFoodFacilities/ucm175995.htm), it will take 15 years for FDA inspect each foreign facility just once under S. 510.
    Yet the bill calls for a domestic low-risk facility (such as a local baker or jam-maker) to have been inspected at least twice during that same time period.
    Why not take the resources that would be spent unnecessarily inspecting local, small-scale producers and use them to inspect foreign facilities?
    The Tester-Hagan amendments do what should have been done from the beginning: exempt local, small-scale producers so that the FDA’s resources are focused on the large-scale producers who pose the greatest risk to large numbers of people.

  • Doc Mudd

    Judith frets over enforceable protection for “small and sustainable farms”. Just more self-absorbed hand wringing.
    The intent and purpose of S.510 is enforceable protection for food consumers – all consumers of all foods, even foods produced and sold by whining little profiteers.

  • http://www.neemtree.org Jeff Ensminger

    What we should all seek is legislation that is proportionate and fairly applies. What is enforceable protection that works for larger operations may be completely out of context and create an unnecessary burden to a smaller operation. That is the case in this bill as it stands. Not one person I know in AG would want to create a burden to another in AG. No one can disagree with one fact, S 510 is blanket legislation that attempts to write proposed law that applies to everyone when in fact you cannot do that without negatively affecting someone.
    We are all interested in a sound bill. It does not matter if you are big AG, sustainable, conventional, large processor or farmers market. Its all AG and instead of pigeonholing one another in arguments against each other we might need to focus on what is good for AG in general, no matter what sector you are from.
    The Tester-Hagan Amendments fairly revise S 510 in a way that is not detrimental to big AG and brings language to the bill that should have been in there to begin with that protects the small farm and processors.
    In closing, I found the remarks made in the previous comment to be really quite unprofessional.

  • bob orlando

    This bill is a gift to industrial farming, and a poison pill for small organic farmers, because even with the amendments, (that supposedly help small farmers), the final discretion is left to the head of Homeland Security!!!

  • mtn_trvlr

    Just Asking,
    When did it become so difficult for the populace to simply wash the produce before they consume it?
    Also, if it’s already admitted that there are excessive and unnecessary regulations and reporting demands, how does it reduce them by adding yet another layer on top.
    Please people,
    step back from the squabbling about whose bad legislation is worse or what group is doing more or less to lobby congress to enact their bad ideas.
    Please Realize that your safety is not the Federal government’s responsibility or concern, it is yours and yours alone. Government’s only true concern is consolidating and extending it’s control over the populace, economically, socially, and now the food supply. Let go of the filters imposed by party affiliation, economic status, race, gender, education, geographic location, media brand preference and all the other ways “They” use to divide and keep us attacking each other and not “Them”. Neutrally observe “Their” actions. Not the promises they make, but what they actually do.
    If you find yourself wondering how “They” could possibly be dumb enough to put us on the course we’re on, let go of normal human expectations, list “Their” actions and realize who is benefiting by those actions.
    Please try this for yourself.
    search YouTube for people with clear vision like Aaron Russo.
    Look at the people who you pick to represent you.