Surprising many, the House on Thursday failed to pass its version of the farm bill taking down with it a $20 billion food stamp cuts and a provision that could have further delayed the implementation of Food Safety Modernization Act.
Late Wednesday night, the House had agreed by voice vote to add an amendment by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) that would have required the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct “a scientific and economic analysis” of FSMA regulations before they can be rolled out.
“I support access to clean, safe, and healthy food, but this proposed rulemaking will have widespread consequences for American family farmers,” said Rep. Benishek on the house floor. “For example, farmers will have to comply with a new set of rules as determined by the FDA when cleaning and storing their equipment–meaning tractors, harvesters, knives, et cetera–so that domesticated animals may be prevented from contaminating them.”
Benishek objected to the idea that some farmers in his district might have to “completely redesign” their irrigation systems to meet new water and soil monitoring requirements and complained that the rules might require that farmers inspect each individual piece of fruit for bird feces.
“I know that they want to provide clean, safe foods for the American public,” he said. “All specialty crop growers I have met eat the foods that they grow. So my point is that if the FDA estimates that this rule will cost at a minimum $460 million to the industry, why not make sure we’re doing this right?”
Food safety and consumer advocates are strongly opposed to the measure, which they say could slow the progress of FSMA, which is already severely behind schedule.
“This amendment strikes at the heart of FSMA and undermines the thoughtful work FDA is doing to put in place a prevention-based, science-based, economically sound food safety system,” said Sandra Eskin, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s food safety campaign. “It will hurt consumers and damage the food industry.”
Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications at United Fresh, which represents much of the produce industry, said the group doesn’t believe the amendment would actually delay FSMA implementation because much of the analysis that the measure calls for has already been done.
As Food Safety News reported, FDA published a detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of the preventive controls and produce safety rules when they were released in January. The proposals also underwent more than a year of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
In May, Benishek introduced a separate bill, the Stopping Costly Regulations Against Produce, or the SCRAP Act, which seeks to altogether de-fund the implementation of FSMA produce safety rules.
A couple of other food safety-related amendments were tacked onto the bill during debate. Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Jared Polis (D-CO) succeeded in adding language to reauthorize funding for the study of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria through 2018 and Rep. Tony Carenas (D-CA) added a section that would expand food safety education initiatives to include training farm workers on how to identify sources of food contamination and how to decrease contamination events.
“The failure by the House leadership, for the second year in a row, to reach consensus on a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is a tremendous disappointment for all Americans,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement Thursday. “Twice now, the U.S. Senate has done its job and passed balanced, comprehensive legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support.”
Vilsack said the lack of bipartisanship on the bill was in large part due to the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, in the House version.
“The House version of this bill would have unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America,” said Vilsack.
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that the SCRAP Act was not allowed to be considered as an amendment to the farm bill and has been updated to reflect that it is a stand alone bill.© Food Safety News