A key coalition in the sustainable agriculture community has announced a more specific, multifaceted approach for influencing the pending Senate food safety reform bill.

Yesterday, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued a constituent update outlining top areas of concern and amendments to fix what the group calls “very glaring problems.”

farmers-market2-featured.jpgThe FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, a bill that would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) authority and mandate over the food supply, has spent weeks stalled behind health care reform and has yet to be scheduled for a vote after being unanimously voted out of committee in November.

After months of uncertainty over the timing of the bill, which enjoys bipartisan support and the backing of most consumer and food industry groups, many experts believe the Senate will take up the bill in early March.

Though the sustainable agriculture community has won a number of key changes to the bill, NSAC said in its update that S. 510 still has certain “deficiencies,” which “threaten to undermine good conservation and biodiversity practices, retard the development of stronger local and regional food systems, and bar access to markets for small and mid-sized farms.”

According to the update, NSAC is focusing on four main problems:

  • Farm facilities which do value-added processing or which co-mingle product with neighboring farms will be subject to a proposed new, extensive and expensive FDA regulatory regime regardless of risk and regardless of scale.
  • Proposed new requirements for crop traceability beyond the farm gate and related recordkeeping requirements will make it difficult or impossible for farmers to comply.
  • A produce standard provision threatens wildlife and biodiversity. 
  • Lack of training or technical assistance on food safety appropriate for small and mid-sized value added producers and small scale processors and wholesalers exacerbates the challenges these operations will face to comply with new regulation.

NSAC has been lobbying to add Senator Debbie Stabenow’s bill, 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” and urged its members to call their Senators in support of the addition last month.

According to the group, the push for the Stabenow bill is only “one part of a multi-prong approach to address these looming challenges.” In its food safety update, NSAC notes that it is also supporting amendments that:

  • Focus FDA regulation and resources only on on-farm processing and co-mingling activities that present the most risk for causing food borne pathogen contamination;
  • Exempt farms with small and moderate gross sales from new federal regulation, relying instead on existing state regulation and food safety training;
  • Exempt from traceability requirements food that is direct marketed by the farmer as well as food with labels that preserve the identity of the farm through the supply chain, and limit farm recordkeeping to receipts from the first point of sale beyond the farm gate;
  • Remove the animal encroachment language from the bill and replaces it with science-based language targeting “animals of significant risk” as determined by FDA in a public rulemaking.   

“There is no question that the food system in the U.S. needs to be made safer and that federal oversight and enforcement must be strengthened,” said the update. “Making our food safer, however, should not come at the expense of sustainable and organic producers’ livelihoods – those farmers who best model the production and marketing methods necessary for ensuring a resilient landscape and healthy human society.”