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Politics, Small Farm Deal Stall Food Safety Bill

After a long day of debating–and waiting–Thursday, the Senate was at impasse over the details and politics surrounding the food safety bill.

Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said earlier this week he would, if necessary, keep the Senate in town over the weekend to finish the bill, sources on the Hill said it was more likely the legislation would not move forward until after Thanksgiving recess, which begins Monday.

The bill’s most outspoken opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), has created an unrelated political sticking point by trying to force a vote on an amendment to ban all earmark spending through 2013.

A staffer close to the agreement told CIDRAP yesterday, “We’re at an impasse over Coburn’s earmark provision–we’re unable to reach a time agreement on the bill as a result of Coburn’s earmark threat and without a time agreement this whole process has reached a standstill.  It’s unclear if or when this will be dealt with, and if or when the bill will proceed toward passage.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a prevention-focused bill that would boost the FDA’s inspection mandate, give it mandatory recall authority, and require food facilities to put food safety plans in place, is the first overhaul of the federal food safety regulatory system in over seven decades.  It has maintained wide bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, where a version of the bill approved in July 2009.  The measure passed a key procedural hurdle on Wednesday, but also drew the ire of big agriculture groups unhappy over a recent deal to include small farm exemptions.

In a statement yesterday, the United Fresh Produce Association said it was working with its produce-industry allies to build opposition to Montana Senator Jon Tester’s amendment, which it described as “exempting small farms and business operations from basic federal food safety requirements.”

“[W]e have also consistently stated that food safety policy must be based on risk and science, not speculation and ideology,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh vice president of public policy.  “Unfortunately, Senator Tester’s amendment would reject a risk-based approach to food safety, setting up a federal food safety system that adheres to arbitrary exemptions rather than to sound scientific principles.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, one of the key groups negotiating for the inclusion of the amendment by Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) to reduce the regulatory burden on small farmers and producers, was very pleased that a compromise was included in the manager’s package late Wednesday.

“While not perfect, the final version of the amendment is something our farmer members can support,” said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director. “We congratulate the bill and amendment sponsors on forging a deal,” said Hoefner.  “With the inclusion of this amendment and the earlier inclusion of several other critical family farm amendments, we can now urge the Senate to pass the manager’s amendment and the bill and to do it yet this week.”

“We are encouraging Senators to ignore Big Ag’s bluster and to get on with the important business at hand – passing the amendment and the bill to improve food safety,” said Hoefner.

The so-called “bluster” is now coming from some of the biggest names in produce.

Twenty groups, including the Produce Marketing Association and several regional industry groups, sent a letter to Senate leadership and Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzie (R-WY), chairman and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has been working tirelessly on the bill.

“As organizations representing the vast majority of fresh produce grown and consumed in this country–from small, medium and large-sized farms–the Tester amendment utterly fails to protect consumers by including blanket exemptions from the rest of the bill’s strong safety net, without regard to risk,” reads the letter.

“Comments from Senator Tester and supporters are now making it abundantly clear that their cause is not to argue that small farms pose less risk, but to wage an ideological war against the vast majority of American farmers that seeks to feed 300 million Americans.  We are appalled at statements by Senator Tester reported today in the Capital Press that ‘Small producers are not raising a commodity, but are raising food. Industrial agriculture, he said, takes the people out of the equation.’ “

If the Senate can pass bipartisan food safety legislation, the House will agree to the most recent version of the bill, Sen. Harkin said on the floor yesterday. “If we pass it with bipartisan support, the House will take and pass it and send it right to the president,” he said.

The Senate may resume debate on the bill today, but the timing going forward remains uncertain. (UPDATE: The Senate will not resume debate on the legislation until 6:30 p.m. EST November 29. See the Des Moines Register blog for a detailed look at the procedural hurdles ahead). 

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

    How could FSN leave out the following facts from yesterday’s debate?
    1) The United Fresh Produce, et al, letter’s last 2 sentences are, “The undersigned produce organizations strongly oppose inclusion of the Tester amendment in S. 510. If this language is included in the bill, we will be forced to oppose final passage of the bill.”
    2) One of the many points Dr. Coburn made went like this. We have the safest food in the world. Why? Because we have the best legal system in the world. If a company produces unsafe food, that company pays a terrible price. Look what happened to the Peanut Corporation of America when its executives covered up its unsafe practices. It went bankrupt and people are going to jail. That’s a pretty strong incentive.
    That’s about as close as we’ll ever get to a strong Republican praising trial lawyers (not to mention, Bill Marler ).
    America needs full accurate reporting of this issue not just factually correct but incomplete accounts. Otherwise, how can we find the genuine solution that we need.

  • Terri

    PLEASE, do NOT pass S510….OUR HEALTH FREEDOMS SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AWAY!!!!!

  • henry buehler

    Fax 202 2280400
    U.S. Senator Roland W. Burris
    Re : S 510 FDA food safety enhancement act
    Dear Sir
    I have grave concerns about passage of S 510 will do to our Union. It must not pass Sir. Monsanto through Michael Taylor must not be allowed to control our food.
    Principals from Walmart would be much better for the U.S. Sir
    Respectfully Henry Buehler
    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201011070329
    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/01/21/former-monsanto-exec-appointed-to-the-head-of-the-f-d-a/
    http://www.jimhightower.com/node/2140
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/11/why-sustainable-agriculture-is-important-to-walmart.php
    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201011070329

  • dangermaus

    “…Produce Marketing Association and several regional industry groups, sent a letter …”
    Of course big ag is opposed to Tester. It’d be interesting to hear how loud they’d scream if someone proposed something that would actually make a difference in the food that makes it to market in this country, like drastically changing, reducing, or eliminating federal grain subsidies…

  • Carlo Silvestri

    It seems rather obvious that Big Ag is trying to protect its bailiwick and, I may add, its profits. While the small farm isn’t exempt from food safety issues, as has been pointed out numerous times, many if not most of the food safety issues arise from the processors, not the small farmers.
    I’ve always maintained that greed is the overwhelming driver for these things and the public be damned if they get in the way.
    My recommendation is for the legislators who are supporting the food safety bill to get some guts, go all night if they have to and beat down this cynical attempt to derail something that would protect the vast majority of the public.

  • Patrick

    Ok people, now is the time to call your senators and tell them not to bow to the pressure of Big Ag, because they’re not going to let up pressure trying to kill the Tester amendment.
    This bill, in any form, is toxic to food freedom. It was drafted by Monsanto, that has a revolving door in and out of the FDA (read: it RUNS the FDA) It is designed to destroy small farming in this country. Do you want DHS stormtroopers coming to your house when you want to sell tomatoes to your neighbors? Because that’s what’s gonna happen. And this is not tin-foil hat wearing paranoia. It’s the truth.
    This bill can be killed, but only if we keep up the pressure on senators. CONTACT THEM!!! This bill is set to come to a vote the day after Thanksgiving, when legislators are tryptophan-ed out and are mentally lethargic.
    http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

  • Doc Mudd

    Tester opines: “Small producers are not raising a commodity, but are raising food.”
    Sounds like Tester has been drinking the whackadoodle Kool-Aide. I share commercial agriculture’s dissatisfaction with Tester’s willingness to whimsically compromise food safety by displacing food science with a generous dose of woo.
    No point in passing an S.510 gutted by the loopy Tester loopholes. Exempting some 95% of food producers pretty much circumvents national food safety.

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

    How could FSN leave out the following facts from yesterday’s debate?
    1) The United Fresh Produce, et al, letter’s last 2 sentences are, “The undersigned produce organizations strongly oppose inclusion of the Tester amendment in S. 510. If this language is included in the bill, we will be forced to oppose final passage of the bill.”
    2) One of the many points Dr. Coburn made went like this. We have the safest food in the world. Why? Because we have the best legal system in the world. If a company produces unsafe food, that company pays a terrible price. Look what happened to the Peanut Corporation of America when its executives covered up its unsafe practices. It went bankrupt and people are going to jail. That’s a pretty strong incentive.
    That’s about as close as we’ll ever get to a strong Republican praising trial lawyers (not to mention, Bill Marler ).
    America needs full accurate reporting of this issue not just factually correct but incomplete accounts. Otherwise, how can we find the genuine solution that we need.

  • dangermaus

    I’ve said all along that FSMA wasn’t about food safety, it was about market domination by the organizations that currently control most of the market share. The big ag groups withdrawing their support from it, even though only a tiny fraction of the total volume of food would be excluded under Tester, is more evidence of that.

  • Claudia Williams

    Our Freedom is being taken away from us- vote NO on Senate
    Bill S510!

  • Joven Bananero

    I run a small farm, it’s a part time operation that supplements my income. I really don’t have a problem with the FDA coming to visit my operation as long as the fee I have to pay is based on my acreage or income. I would also like some recognition that a banana is nothing at all like lettuce or tomatoes. The sheer amount of paperwork that goes into a GFS audit would be insane. If an FDA audit was anything like a GFS audit a small producer would have a hard time dealing with it. Why are you gonna dock me points because I don’t wear a name tag when I am in the packing shed with my wife.
    I would generally agree however that the biggest deterrent to violating food safety is the US legal system. A piece of glass in a bag of lettuce could easily cost $100k in a lawsuit. Much easier to spend the money up front.

  • John

    Who ever lets large Corporations tell them how to vote on this is not going to be very welcome in there home town.
    Vote no on this communist bill there will be thousands of protesters come from every where if you pass this against the peoples will.

  • John

    If they really want food safety remove all genetically altered foods and cloned beef and pork Europe won’t even buy them. Everyone with a brain knows home grown food is safer and better for our families so please remove them from the food supply don’t pass this bill.

  • Linda Short

    S.510 has been called the most dangerous legislation in our history because it puts the control of our food supply in the hands of Homeland Security and the FDA. It is well-know the FDA caters to huge agri-businesses like Monsanto. This bill has also been called the “fake food safety bill” because it is about control more than it is about food safety. I urge anyone who values the right to grow, sell or purchase wholesome and organic foods to contact their Senators to vote NO on S.510. There is a link on the site http://www.healthfreedomusa.org to contact your Senators.

  • Joyce Samuels

    S.510 has been called the most dangerous legislation in our history because it puts the control of our food supply in the hands of Homeland Security and the FDA. It is well-know the FDA caters to huge agri-businesses like Monsanto. This bill has also been called the “fake food safety bill” because it is about control more than it is about food safety. I urge anyone who values the right to grow, sell or purchase wholesome and organic foods to contact their Senators to vote NO on S.510. There is a link on the site http://www.healthfreedomusa.org to contact your Senators.

  • Doc Mudd

    Nice example of spamming by Linda & Joyce. Insincere boilerplate message distributed by insincere activist pawns. Figures.

  • Ashley

    Nice example of name calling instead of arguing the issues by Doc.