Monday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee released Chairman Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) draft markup of the pending S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which contained new provisions to protect organic and sustainable farmers.

tomatoes-farmer-featured.jpgSenators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) sent a letter to Chairman Harkin last week urging the inclusion of provisions to help organic farms and sustainable agriculture comply with the new legislation.

“Specifically, we request that the Chairman’s mark include language to streamline food safety guidelines and regulations governing organic and sustainable farms,” said the senators in the letter to Harkin.

The letter, which noted that organic food sales have been growing between 15 and 21 percent annually, cited concerns over whether the legislation might unintentionally burden the small and sustainable agriculture sector.

“We are concerned that following enactment of S. 510, organic farms and sustainable agriculture will be subject to two potentially conflicting or duplicative sets of regulations issued by the two agencies,” the HELP committee said in its letter. “In order to avoid potential regulatory conflicts or duplication, we urge you to include language…to require the FDA and USDA to work together in developing food safety regulations.”

“We believe that a cohesive set of regulations will help ensure the viability or organic and sustainable food producers, while also increasing the safety of the foods these producers bring to market,” the letter added.

Harkin listened to the concerns and adopted the suggested provisions.

“The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 will strengthen the FDA’s ability to protect the nation’s food supply by enacting comprehensive reforms that will improve capacity to detect and respond to contamination outbreaks, provide food safety training for small farmers and food processors and enact strong preventative measures for food imports,” said Senator Merkley’s office in a statement responding to the Chairman’s markup draft, released on Monday.

“Oregon farmers, schools and restaurant owners have forged strong partnerships to provide locally grown, sustainable food for our families,” said Merkley. “We should work to strengthen those relationships while enacting policies to make sure that the food parents are packing in school lunches and putting on the dinner table is safe to eat.”

Photo courtesy USDA.