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Food and Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment

As the Senate gears up to vote on a motion to limit debate and move the pending food safety bill forward on Wednesday, interest groups are kicking into high gear to lobby for and against key amendments.

Monday a group of 30 meat, pet food, and fresh produce industry groups sent a letter to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chairman and ranking members, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Michael Enzi (R-WY), respectively, urging key staff and lawmakers working on the bill to oppose a measure to exempt small farms and producers from the crux of the legislation.

“We believe an operation’s size, the growing practices used, or its proximity to customers does not determine whether the food offered is safe,” read the letter, which was signed by the American Meat Institute, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the United Egg Producers.

“What matters is that the operation implements prudent product safety practices, whether the product is purchased at a roadside stand, a farmers’ market, or a large supermarket,” continues the letter. “We support FDA food safety programs developed through a scientific, risk-based approach and that benefit public health.”

As the food safety bill, which would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority and mandate over the food supply, has languished, an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), now also backed by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), has gained widespread support. The measure would ease the regulatory burden on small farmers and producers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and several other sustainable ag groups have been issuing a last round of action alerts to rally support for the Tester amendment.

“The bill takes important steps to improve corporate food safety rules but it is not appropriate for small farms and processors that sell to restaurants, food coops, groceries, schools, wholesalers and at farm stands and farmers markets,” said NSAC in its alert late last week.

NSAC asked its supporters to call Senators in support of the Tester provision to prevent “one-size-fits-all” regulations from being created.

Though the details are still being worked out, insiders expect the Tester amendment to garner enough support to be added to the bill. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, also known as S. 510, is also expected to pass, with bipartisan support, this week.

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To read more on the debate over small farm and producer exemptions, see Debate Over Small Farm Exemptions Rolls On, October 26, 2010.

© Food Safety News
  • http://www.healthyfoodcoalition.org hhamil

    I ask that FSN reconsider and then change the headline of this article.
    “Food and Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment,” is factually correct and, as the article, itself, clearly shows, is also grossly misleading. “Big Food and Big Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment” doesn’t mislead but it understates the content just as “Small Food and Small Ag Groups Rally for Tester Amendment” does.
    The body of the article proves the headline misleading by citing alerts from small ag groups supporting Tester.
    Accurate headlines include “Sustainable Ag Groups Support and Industrial Ag Groups Oppose Tester Amendment” and, my current favorite, “Agriculture Groups Split Small vs. Large Over the Tester Amendment.”

  • Doc Mudd

    **”‘The bill takes important steps to improve corporate food safety rules but it is not appropriate for small farms and processors that sell to restaurants, food coops, groceries, schools, wholesalers and at farm stands and farmers markets,’ said NSAC in its alert late last week.”**
    Well, of course. Who needs safe food in restaurants, stores or schools? Reminiscent of a TV commercial from a decade ago: ‘Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything!’
    With the Tester amendment we’re being coerced to do nothing, change nothing to appease the “small farm” special interest group. Expected to continue accepting unnecessary food safety risks from all of those many, many untraceable “small” food suppliers.
    Wise up. Scrap the Tester loopholes.
    Pass S.510 as it stands and usher the safety of ALL of our food supply into the 21st Century. No exceptions. No tantrums.

  • http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org rmcreynolds

    There is no more telling indicator of the need for the Tester Amendment then the opposition of Big Ag to it. How ironic that the giant industrial food players who are responsible–in beef, in salad mixes, in eggs–for the vast majority of the foodborne illness in this country should rage and screech and gnash their teeth at the prospect of farmers market vendors and small food entrepreneurs poisoning the food supply.
    To see a list of over 120 grassroots organizations and small business that support the Tester Amendment, visit http://www.worc.org/userfiles/file/Local%20Foods/Ltr_S510_Nov-4-2010.pdf. The most effective way to promote a healthier, safer food system is to decentralize our food system and reduce the inherent risk in moving our food through a nationwide system with a small number of corporate-controlled choke points. S.510 without the Tester Amendment will do the opposite, forcing small business and farms out of the food industry, and enhancing the power of Big Ag and Food. So it is litter wonder they oppose amendment. Those who care about people, farms, and communities should take this as a cue to demand the Senate adopt the Tester Amendment.
    Roland McReynolds
    Executive Director
    Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
    http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org

  • Steve Gilman

    Ah… the Big Food Bedfellows — they protest too much, methinks. Acting in the name of public service — there’s a loud sound of axes grinding in the background — while they really are serving their own special interests.
    While it’s not surprising to find the big industrialized produce growers that comprise United Fresh, and the list of Big Agribusiness sign-ons (including Big Meat and Big Eggs) would engage in such a big bucks disinformation campaign against the scale-appropriate oversight provisions of Tester amendment for the little guys — the pile on by some Consumer groups (with the notable exception of Food and Water Watch) is something else again.
    That’s because there’s well-demonstrated strong grassroots support for legislative provisions that respect the fragile uniqueness of small scale agriculture. It used to be real-life consumers could look to the Consumer groups to protect them from the inherent risks and excesses of the Industrial Food purveyors. Now, looking behind the curtain, it seems their “Consumers” are just a faceless demographic that the big Consumer groups claim to be acting on behalf of…

  • http://Www.marlerblog.com bill marler

    Harry, the headline is factual and not misleading.

  • Bob

    Doc Mudd, I find your comment particularly suspicious, as all the major issues related to food safety in the last few years have been from massive, industrial operations. It seems odd to be so frightened of the tiny fraction of our food supply which today comes from small producers. The best illustration of the dangers of big vs small can be seen in our beef supply. When you buy one pound of ground beef from a small producer, you can often buy meat from one single cow, and you can clearly trace it back to a specific herd on a specific farm. When you buy a pound of ground beef from an industrial operation, you may actually be purchasing the parts of more than 1,000 cows from multiple feedlots in that single pack. A beef recall from the industrial system, means thousands and thousands of pounds of tainted meat affecting potentially thousands and thousands of consumers. Scale matters. The law needs to reflect it.

  • Doc Mudd

    Ah, dredging up the imaginary spectre of ‘Evil Big Ag Boogiemen’ – heh, that tired old conspiracy theory is characteristically the zealots’ final death gurgle in any ‘discussion’. And it’s the last ditch scare tactic here, too, evidently.
    In the 21st Century, Americans, all Americans, deserve food that is as safe as it is abundant and affordable. No exemptions for special interest lobbies (small or large). No excuses. No pitiful whining. No crocodile tears. Just uncomplicated assurance of safe food for America’s families.
    Instead, elitist hobby farm lobbyists like Harry and Roland fret exclusively over maximizing the grubby profits of self-absorbed “small producers”. Customer safety is conspicuously absent from their tedious anti-food safety, pro-elitist diatribes. Now they screech and squeal the David and Goliath schtick to divert attention from our opportunity for modern food safety across the entire food supply.
    When it comes to handing over your hard-earned grocery money, trust but verify. That’s the smart way to “know your farmer”, and that’s what S.510 accomplishes in its current stand-alone form. Merely assure the safety of foods we’re being sold.
    That the hobby farm lobby, alone, supports the convoluted Tester loopholes is just one more salient indication that they place no value on food safety for your family or mine. I’d say we’ve come to “know our farmer” well enough by the position they have taken!

  • Amy

    A bit confused. Doesn’t S.510 only affect FDA reg’d foods? Isn’t MPI exempted altoghether?
    So why then does AMI & the other “meaty federations” care whether or not there is a Tester Amendment added?

  • http://smartculturekitchen.blogspot.com Michael Bulger

    “…as all the major issues related to food safety in the last few years have been from massive, industrial operations.”
    What’s major? How many folks have to get sick?
    http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2010/cheese0157/index.html
    http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm232977.htm
    http://www.health.state.mn.us/news/pressrel/2010/milk102810.html
    These are releases from the past few weeks alone.

  • Bob

    Hey Doc Mudd,
    Angry much? I don’t think I dredged up any *spectre,* but ok, I’ll bite on your trolling post…
    You completely ignored the substance of my post, which gave a single clear example of just one such very important distinction between a large food system and smaller-scale food system as it relates directly to safety.
    Here’s a fun exercise — review the following list of product recalls and note the number of recent recalls which are food-related: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_recall
    There is only one thing the food recalls have in common– they are all related to large-scale food production.
    I’m not saying that large-scale can not be safe if properly created. I’m simply saying large-scale systems are where the legislative focus should be because this is where the PROBLEM lies. A one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work for small producers, who often lack the staff, resources, technology, etc, employed and enjoyed by larger companies, and it certainly doesn’t recognize meaningful differences in food-production as they relate to safety.

  • Sharon Zecchinelli

    Gosh, even the smart guys haven’t understood that the Tester Amendment is meaningless given this language in the bill:
    Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.
    And since the whole of the bill is about global standards, heh, wtf?

  • Actual Farmer

    Doe Mudd, you sniveling little coward, ya gotta little brown on your nose there

  • http://www.healthyfoodcoalition.org Harry Hamil

    I ask that FSN reconsider and then change the headline of this article.
    “Food and Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment,” is factually correct and, as the article, itself, clearly shows, is also grossly misleading. “Big Food and Big Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment” doesn’t mislead but it understates the content just as “Small Food and Small Ag Groups Rally for Tester Amendment” does.
    The body of the article proves the headline misleading by citing alerts from small ag groups supporting Tester.
    Accurate headlines include “Sustainable Ag Groups Support and Industrial Ag Groups Oppose Tester Amendment” and, my current favorite, “Agriculture Groups Split Small vs. Large Over the Tester Amendment.”

  • http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org Roland McReynolds

    There is no more telling indicator of the need for the Tester Amendment then the opposition of Big Ag to it. How ironic that the giant industrial food players who are responsible–in beef, in salad mixes, in eggs–for the vast majority of the foodborne illness in this country should rage and screech and gnash their teeth at the prospect of farmers market vendors and small food entrepreneurs poisoning the food supply.
    To see a list of over 120 grassroots organizations and small business that support the Tester Amendment, visit http://www.worc.org/userfiles/file/Local%20Foods/Ltr_S510_Nov-4-2010.pdf. The most effective way to promote a healthier, safer food system is to decentralize our food system and reduce the inherent risk in moving our food through a nationwide system with a small number of corporate-controlled choke points. S.510 without the Tester Amendment will do the opposite, forcing small business and farms out of the food industry, and enhancing the power of Big Ag and Food. So it is litter wonder they oppose amendment. Those who care about people, farms, and communities should take this as a cue to demand the Senate adopt the Tester Amendment.
    Roland McReynolds
    Executive Director
    Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
    http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org

  • http://smartculturekitchen.blogspot.com Michael Bulger

    Bob, you should really consider using sources other than Wikipedia. Especially for up-to-date and comprehensive product recalls.
    Try the FDA website. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ArchiveRecalls/2010/default.htm
    If you found it difficult to discover this on you own, consider that S.510 contains measures which should update and improve the FDA’s communication with the public in the event of an outbreak.

  • Bob

    Hi Michael,
    Fair point, though the listing in Wikipedia is itself sourced and appears to be accurate. I was just quickly pulling a listing of historical recalls. Your sources are certainly more targeted and more comprehensive (fda) as they relate to food. Thanks for posting!

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, Bob, I was doing my level best to politely ignore you and your cruel, ludicrous notion that food safety is only an issue if “thousands and thousands” of people are potentially sickened; no harm, no foul if only a few people are poisoned by a likeable local profiteer, according to you.
    If the insignificant few folks sickened by any popular yokel happen to be you and your family (little kids, elderly parents, etc.) is there a codicle in your asinine pronouncement ascribing sudden importance to food safety, then? Any importance at all? And, must my family actually become ill before food safety has merit, is there no value to prevention?
    Another of Bob’s brilliant observations: “There is only one thing the food recalls have in common– they are all related to large-scale food production.”
    Fail, epic fail, there Bob. You’re making up silly nonsense as you go along, evidently, because food safety is proven relevant at all scales of production. For clear examples I defer to Micheal Bulger’s factual post describing recent food poisonings doled out courtesy of ‘trusted small food producers’. (By the way, Micheal, commendable job recently over on Grist attempting to reason with zealots. Thankless job. Credit where credit is due, man. Bravo!)

  • Bob

    Hey Doc Mudd,
    Again, you seem to miss the point I am making. Food safety is indeed relevant at all levels and I never said it wasn’t. What I have said, and continue to say, is that a system where one single infected cow can get into a nationwide supply-chain of beef and affect millions of dollars of product and thousands of lives is fundamentally different than a smaller operation. It is a fairly simple concept and I think I am actually being quite clear.

  • Shodo

    The conversation above seems to focus on defending the Tester amendment against charges of unfairness. A few points have been missed.
    (1) Small farms have much less sickness than giant agribusiness – even organic agribusiness – due to the fact that masses of animals naturally attract masses of pathogens (banquet time!).
    (2) The act was written for giant farms with thousands of animals,big problems, and lots of money. It would put every small farmer out of business to implement the requirements. Different requirements could be written for small farms. They weren’t.
    (3) Small organic and permaculture farms provide a higher quality of food, and fresher food (safer). They also provide a food safety net – not dependent on fossil fuels (transportation and chemical agriculture) they will be very important to our food safety as petroleum costs increase and eventually become prohibitive.
    (4) If we pass the Act without the amendment, the small farms will be out of business by the time a new act is written to address small-farm food safety. See # 3 – without local food supplies, we are ripe for disaster. Not to mention that our food supply lines are a fantastic terrorist target; the fact that they haven’t been bombed says something about the enemy – please make up for yourself what it says.
    And by the way, have any of you taken a look at the FDA website to determine how many of those recalls were actually small and how many were agribusiness? Of course, then you should also consider the quantity of food involved in each – to mathematically evaluate the actual danger to human beings from the comparative events. It’s a simple calculation, I don’t have time to do it.

  • http://smartculturekitchen.blogspot.com Michael Bulger

    “Different requirements could be written for small farms. They weren’t.”
    No requirements have been written as of now. The actual requirements will be written following the public comment period. The bill requires that requirements be written, but does not specify what will exactly will be required. It specifies that the requirements must be workable for small farms. It also says that small farms may be exempt.
    “Small organic and permaculture farms provide a higher quality of food, and fresher food (safer).”
    It’s the rights of Americans like yourself that were in mind when the bill was written. As it is now (even without the amendment), no requirements that the FDA might write are allowed to conflict with Organic practices. So Organics are protected.
    Standards are also supposed to be appropriate to the “scale and diversity” of small, organic farms and their variety of crops.

  • Michelle

    As a consumer I am educated enough to make my own decisions on food. I have consumed raw dairy for years, though according to the government myself and everyone else in the group should be at death’s door, the 50 people in the herd share have never been sick from it. Local, small scale food is safer for many reasons.

  • http://www.cfhsm.ws Ellen Diann Messer

    Greed is the root of ALL evil and you big AG representatives operate off of greed, not common sense, truth or justice. You will not win in the end and your controlling ways will come to haunt you. You will reap what you sow and IF your bill is so harmless to small farmers, what is the harm of making it clear with an admendment. I buy from the small farmers not you junk food creators. I want my food ripe on the vine. Small farmers need to come back to the market and get rid of the pick them green farmers.

  • Doc Mudd

    A whole lot of off-topic stupidity raging here from the hobby farmer lobby. So, you will have to clean up and produce safe food for sale to the public, so what? That will probably end up being among the best things that have ever happened to you and your niche market.
    I have $10 that says none of you silly fakers who threaten to be put out of business will actually quit over this – you’ll still be cranking and complaining along, as usual. You will still perch on your rusty tailgate at the farmers market, puff and wheeze theatrically and wear quaint straw hats to seduce me into trusting you. You will still be stroking and fondling my garlic bulbs too affectionately (though S.510 may require, finally, that you at least wash your hands first).
    The topic is food safety. And the fundamental question is: Are ‘small operations’ (whatever those are) free from risk of food poisoning?
    And the answer is: Of course not, silly. Bacteria and viruses populate all farms and processing floors, regardless of size, regardless of how quaintly the operators are clothed and regardless of how energetically consumers might fantasize that only imaginary ‘evil large operators’ represent a risk. Arguments over which group has more or less of this or that risk factor are pointless – they are ALL vulnerable!
    The strident, over-wrought ‘flawless little guys’ versus ‘evil big guys’ blather is meaningless nonsense to food consumers, whose hard-earned grocery money should buy them clean, safe food — every time.
    Think of it as a logical separation of church and state – while you zealots are enraptured in your blind worship of manure and the long-handled hoe, the USDA will be keeping me, as a consumer of food, safe from any adverse consequences of your queer notions.

  • http://farmerandcook.com steve sprinkel

    I have operated commercial organic farms since 1975, none larger than 27 acres in production. The compliance measures in S510 were drawn up without taking into account my ability to pay for the various requirements in the legislation. Those obligations include management of additional quality control systems that would be a duplication of effort already done. Certified organic farms already operate with a great deal of third party oversight that guarantee consumer safety.
    I have also served as a certification administrator, inspector and teacher. The small-farm, organic food system continues to improve on its own, years ahead of academia, government or food producers. Organic farmers, particularly small-scale operations tend to set the bar.
    I have observed for over thirty years large scale corporate industry always making an effort to delay the adoption of new regulations, diminish their severity, and then after all has been perfected, to install at the very highest levels of regulatory government a former corporate VP of that very industry they now must oversee. Its called fox in hen house. Its a cliche.
    The most recent example of large ag promoting a certain kind of regulatory measure that only large ag can comply with is the recently disallowed obligation of all almond growers to steam their almonds. Previously, a major almond handler suffered an outbreak of salmonella. Many small almond handlers could not afford the construction of steam equipment needed to comply. An appeals court agreed, and now we can eat almonds again that have not been steamed.
    These huge food recalls are created by huge systems. I stopped using manure and manure based compost 8 years ago because I didn’t trust it any more. The system was too big. My major source of nitrogen now is organic soybean meal. This practice is so novel, my certifier had to review it!
    Someday this will be a common practice. The only problem is that it makes my spinach taste like tofu…
    I hope Tester passes. Thanks to everyone who suggested support for it here.

  • Doc Mudd

    Hmmm. Can afford to pay $800/ton for soybean meal to lavish wastefully as nitrogen fertilizer, but asserts he cannot possibly afford “to pay for the various requirements in the [food safety] legislation” (without even specifying the anticipated cost, if any, by the way).
    Yeah, right, a world of over 600 billion people will safely and sustainably nourish itself by literally shoveling money on the ground in this typical example of an ‘alternate system of farming’. I think not. Hungry folks are intelligent enough to just eat the soybean meal and forget about growing arugala and baby bok choy.
    Little wonder organic stuff costs so much in the market.
    God save us, Tester is delivering us into the clutches of impractical elitists. Silly dreamers with no sense of value.

  • Bambina

    This bill is ridiculous. Accidents happen people die. Keep the goverment out of our food!