The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued an action alert on Friday urging its members to support an amendment to the pending food safety bill, which would provide training and education to help farmers comply with new regulations.
The move follows the Make Our Food Safe campaign’s recent lobbying effort to push the pending legislation, S.510, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, for a vote in the Senate–the bill was unanimously voted out of committee in November and enjoys bipartisan support. A similar measure passed the House in July. The campaign, made up of consumer and public health groups, recently sent a letter to Senators asking for a food safety reform bill on the President’s desk by Valentine’s Day.
Though S. 510 is considered ready to go–most agree the bill is simply waiting behind the health care gridlock–there is still widespread concern in the small and sustainable ag communities about how the bill may adversely impact burgeoning local food systems.
“In its zeal to protect consumer health, Congress could instead stifle a healthy shift in diet to more fresh and local foods,” said NSAC in a statement Friday.
“While we all cheer this Administration’s emerging emphasis on local and regional food production, let’s not forget that the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) now on its way to the Senate floor could erect a formidable barrier to those markets for many small and moderate sized farms.”
“The Act would considerably ramp up FDA regulation on farms that even minimally process their crops and sell them to restaurants, food coops, groceries, schools or to wholesale markets,” said NSAC. “The new regulatory burdens would include recordkeeping for traceability, developing and implementing expensive food safety plans, regular on-farm FDA inspections, and, if the House has its way, hefty annual inspection fees.”
NSAC wants the Senate to add a bill Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 2758, the Growing Safe Food Act, as an amendment to S. 510.
The group considers Stabenow’s bill, which would create a national training and technical assistance program, “one of the best ideas for improving this legislation.”
“If you value safe, local, and healthy food, please call your Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor the Growing Safe Food Act,” the group said to its members.
Like many others in the food world, Harry Hamil, founder of a year round farmers market in North Carolina, and an advocate for local food systems, is unsure whether the Senate will adopt Stabenow’s language to help boost food safety efforts for small growers. Hamil told Food Safety News in December, “My guess is that the success of this will primarily depend on how those of us concerned about small producers and sustainable agriculture organize ourselves.”
As NSAC noted in its action alert, the timing of S. 510 in th Senate remains up in the air, the bill could be brought to the floor “on a moment’s notice – this month or later this year.”