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Food Safety News

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Senate Food Safety Bill Moves Ahead

The Senate made substantial progress on the pending Food Safety Bill Wednesday. To move the sweeping food bill forward, the upper chamber voted 74-25 to limit debate, circumventing Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) objection.  And key stakeholders resolved the two controversial issues that have plagued the bill: bisphenol A and small farm exemptions.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) amendment–which originally aimed to ban the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, in all food containers, but had since been scaled back to only containers meant for infants and small children–officially kicked the can.

“Unfortunately, the compromise agreement on a BPA amendment to the food safety bill has been blocked,” announced Feinstein on the floor of the Senate. Feinstein said she and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) had, after months of negotiation, finally reached a compromise that would have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups and required the FDA to issue a revised safety assessment on BPA by Dec. 1, 2012.

That compromise was shut down by the leading chemical industry group, according to Feinstein.  ”Unfortunately it has become clear that the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has blocked and obstructed the agreement from being added to the Food Safety Bill currently on the floor.”

“I regret that the ACC puts the sale of chemicals above the safety of infants and children,” she added. “The chemical lobby came in at the 11th hour opposing this ban.”

The ACC has maintained it should be up to the Food and Drug Administration, not Congress, to rule on BPA safety.

The Tester-Hagan Amendment, on the other hand, remains a real possibility. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and supported by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), would exempt farms and food producers that either fit the FDA’s definition of “very small business,” sell most of their products directly to consumers, restaurants, or retailers within state lines or within 400 miles that have annual sales of less than half a million dollars.

Late last night, consumer groups and sustainable agriculture advocates, who have been at odds over the amendment’s language for months, reached a compromise that could be adopted into the manager’s package. Though the details are not yet public, the agreement is rumored to reduce the distance threshold and allow the FDA the ability to withdraw an exemption if a farm or facility is linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

“We are happy with the outline of the final deal on the Tester-Hagan amendment,” Ferd Hoefner policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition told Food Safety News, adding that specifics of the deal were embargoed.

“It is not exactly what we wanted, but it is something we can live with and get behind.  We support its inclusion in the Manager’s amendment, and with its inclusion support passage of the Manager’s amendment and final passage.  We congratulate the bill’s sponsors and the amendment’s sponsors for their dedication to reaching an agreement that is good for family farmers, good for healthy food consumers, and good for food safety.”

Tester, a farmer himself, told reporters yesterday that he will fight tooth and nail for the provision, believing that small-scale local producers are not presenting large-scale food risks.

“What this amendment is simply there to do–it isn’t to give anybody a loophole they can drive a truck through, it’s to give them a loophole they can walk through with a wheelbarrow full of locally grown farm-processed food,” he said.

For Tester, the measure is as much about food safety as it is about the direction of American agriculture.

“If we were to pass this bill without this amendment you’re going to see more concentration in agriculture,” he told reporters.  ”You’re going to see less choices for the consumer and bigger industrialized agriculture in the country.  I don’t think that’s positive, I don’t think it creates jobs, I don’t think its good for the economy and I don’t think it’s good for our food system.”

It remains unclear whether the major food and agriculture industry groups, who have recently grown louder in their opposition to any blanket exemptions, will find the deal amenable.

Yesterday, Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association– which signed a letter opposing the Tester amendment sent to Senate staff Monday–reiterated industry opposition to exempting sectors based on “geographic location, size of operation and to whom they sell their food products.”

“The fact remains that when a food safety incident occurs, farmers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, regardless of size, suffer significant economic hardships,” said Guenther.  ”Most importantly, the vast majority of businesses who suffer this economic hardship have nothing to do with any single food safety incident.  In addition, small and local food operations have been associated with a number of food safety incidents and recalls over the last decade and are not immune based on size of operation, distance of geography or commodity.”

The Senate is set to debate the food safety bill at 9:30 a.m EST Thursday, likely through late afternoon.

© Food Safety News
  • Rowena Mayer

    Mr. Robert Gunther of the United Fresh Produce Association is promoting a serious exaggeration on the food safety in small farms. The most serious dangers occur in large scale processors.
    Many people rely on local produce for their health and survival. Mr. Gunther is guilty of attacking millions of Americans who produce and consume fresh locally grown food in order to line his own pocket.
    If members of the US Congress are intersted in behaving with integrity and providing safe food for our citizens, they will not listen to Mr. Gunther and his kind.

  • http://www.healthyfoodcoalition.org hhamil

    The FSN characterization of the negotiations over Tester-Hagan as between “consumer groups and sustainable agriculture advocates” is a good example of how news can be slanted while ostensibly ONLY reporting it.
    Most of the negotiations of which I’m aware have directly involved the Pew Charitable Trust. Since when are foundations considered “consumer organizations?” Is that how FSN characterizes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? How about the various foundations controlled by agriculture organizations?
    The majority of the members of the organizations FSN calls “sustainable agriculture advocates” are individuals. All are “consumers.” Furthermore, unlike the self-perpetuating board organizations that many “consumer organizations” are they are true membership organizations controlled by those individual consumers.
    Were not ALL of the “consumer organizations” involved included because they were part of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a name they chose? Calling them by that name seems the most appropriate one to me just like you call the scores of organizations in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition by their chosen name. Of course, you could have called our groups, “local, healthy food advocates,” which is why most of our groups actually were created. Our members wanted local, healthy food.

  • Rowena Mayer

    Mr. Robert Gunther of the United Fresh Produce Association is promoting a serious exaggeration on the food safety in small farms. The most serious dangers occur in large scale processors.
    Many people rely on local produce for their health and survival. Mr. Gunther is guilty of attacking millions of Americans who produce and consume fresh locally grown food in order to line his own pocket.
    If members of the US Congress are intersted in behaving with integrity and providing safe food for our citizens, they will not listen to Mr. Gunther and his kind.

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

    The FSN characterization of the negotiations over Tester-Hagan as between “consumer groups and sustainable agriculture advocates” is a good example of how news can be slanted while ostensibly ONLY reporting it.
    Most of the negotiations of which I’m aware have directly involved the Pew Charitable Trust. Since when are foundations considered “consumer organizations?” Is that how FSN characterizes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? How about the various foundations controlled by agriculture organizations?
    The majority of the members of the organizations FSN calls “sustainable agriculture advocates” are individuals. All are “consumers.” Furthermore, unlike the self-perpetuating board organizations that many “consumer organizations” are they are true membership organizations controlled by those individual consumers.
    Were not ALL of the “consumer organizations” involved included because they were part of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a name they chose? Calling them by that name seems the most appropriate one to me just like you call the scores of organizations in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition by their chosen name. Of course, you could have called our groups, “local, healthy food advocates,” which is why most of our groups actually were created. Our members wanted local, healthy food.

  • Ronda

    I seriously wonder whether the Gov. has any real concern over our food and health safety especially when related to food. First, if they had a real concern they would spend more time trying to figure out how to get mercury out of our immunizations. Secondly if they are to gain more control over our food supply and hand it over to big commercial suppliers (that the Government will control) I am pretty confident that other obsure additives would appear somewhere in this process.

  • dream009

    When I first heard of this bill I thought it was talking about a communist country no one in America would ever try to take all of our rights away like this. It is complete iron fist of control of the food supply no more Goverment take overs.
    This bill has nothing to do with food safety.
    If it did first you would do is remove all genetically altered foods that are linked to cancer
    and cloned meats this bill will not pass. We don’t need it you are destroying our country we are not communists it is Un-American.

  • Gail C.

    If you bother to look the evidence shows that the food “safety” bill is actually the Food Supply Take-over bill.
    Sec. 404 “Compliance with international agreements.” is particularly dam*ing
    We went from the “Worlds Safest Food” to the “Food Safety Crisis” thanks to the coldblooded implementation of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture (1995) and the international HACCP rules (1996) These changes were followed by open borders, closing of government testing labs, decreased surveillance and the turning over of our food safety system to Corporate Interests.
    “Food inspections have dropped from a robust 50,000 in 1972 to about 5,000 today, meaning that U.S. food processors are inspected on average about every 10 years.” [Washington Post]
    “…when USDA “officials initially described HACCP to the industry in the mid-90’s, the agency made the following enticing promises:
    * “Under HACCP, the agency will implement a ‘Hands Off’ role in meat inspection.
    * “Under HACCP, the agency will no longer police the industry, but the industry will police itself.
    * “Under HACCP, the agency will disband its previous command and control authority.
    * “Under HACCP, each plant will write its own HACCP Plan, and the agency cannot tell plants what must be in their HACCP Plans.”
    As a result, the inspector was no longer responsible for what was happening on the plant floor: that was left to company personnel. The new role of the inspector was to make sure that plant personnel were carrying out their duties in a manner consistent with the HACCP plan. In many cases this amounted to making sure that all of the paper work was in the proper order…..” agpolicy.org
    “It (the recall of Hallmark/Westland Meat) highlights one of the problems that we have attempted to raise with the agency ever since 1996 when the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) inspection system was put in place. There seems to be too much reliance on an honor system for the industry to police itself. While the USDA investigation is still on going at Hallmark/Westland, a couple of facts have emerged that point to a system that can be gamed by those who want to break the law. It (HACCP) shifted the responsibility for food safety over to the companies…” Mr Stan Painter, Chairman, National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals Apr 17, 2008 Testimony before Congress. “Over 1000 non-compliance reports – weighing some 16 pounds — were turned over” as a result of a FOIA request.
    All this bill does is turn control of our food system over to the international AG Cartel:
    “The sudden discovery of a global pandemic of international cartels in the mid 1990s, after a hiatus of a half century, is puzzling. That the greatest number and most injurious conspiracies should be clustered in the food and feed ingredients industries adds another element of mystery to the puzzle. ” Purdue University
    As I said the evidence is very “ROBUST”