Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) says he expects the Senate to approve his amendment aimed at lessening the impact of the pending food safety bill on small-scale food producers. While the fate and immediate timeline for the legislation remains highly uncertain, Tester’s office released an updated version of his amendment late last week.

“While I agree that we need to have better regulations for these multistate, huge corporations that take food off fields, throw it all together and distribute it to many states, I think the state and local entities can do a much better job (regulating) the people who are direct-marketing food,” Sen. Tester, a third-generation farmer, told reporters during a visit to PEAS Farm in Missoula, Montana Friday.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups continue to lobby for the Tester amendment, which would exempt certain food facilities and farms with under $500,000 in gross annual sales from preventative control plan requirements and exempt direct-market farmers from the coming produce safety regulations. The measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), has been the subject of intense negotiations, but was ultimately not included in the final manager’s package for the bill.

Carol Tucker-Foreman, a fellow at the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Polity Institute, told Food Safety News in August that she was surprised some of Tester’s language wasn’t included.  Tucker-Foreman believes at least portions of the amendment will ultimately be added to the Senate bill.

“People don’t want to hurt small farmers and farmers markets, but they also don’t want to keep getting sick,” said Tucker-Foreman in an interview with Food Safety News after the manager’s amendment was released.  “If you put aside the rants, the language of the bill will be there. They are really taking the middle course here.”

If the Tester amendment is added, NSAC says it will support the Senate bill.  “However, we strongly oppose the companion House measure, and stand ready to defend the Senate bill in conference with the House should that prove necessary,” the group said in a statement.

The latest version of Tester‘s amendment was released Friday, the measure still charges local and state food safety and health agencies to oversee small-scale producers. According to his office, the measure would apply to producers that:

-Have annual sales of less than $500,000, and sell the majority of their product directly to consumers, restaurants and retailers within the same state–or within 400 miles, or that

-Fall within the Food and Drug Administration’s category of “very small business”

Tester addressed reporters along with Josh Slotnick, who operates PEAS Farm.  Slotnick said his farm lacks the resources to meet the would-be requirements in the food safety bill, stressing the need for Tester’s amendment.

According to a release from Tester’s office, Paul Hubbard, a consumer advocate with the Community Food Agriculture Coalition, also strongly supports Tester’s amendment.

“Jon understands that a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach to food safety just won’t work,” Hubbard said.  “We appreciate his work to boost food safety in a common sense way that will keep small family farms and ranches in business for future generations.”

“The folks with me here today know firsthand that foodborne illnesses don’t come from family agriculture,” said Tester.  “As we do the vital work to make sure the food on our kitchen tables is safe, we’ve also got to make sure we don’t treat small producers the same way we treat big corporate farms.  That’s exactly what my amendment will fix.”

Tester’s amendment is supported by more than 150 local, state, and national food organizations, including NSAC.  Consumer and industry groups in Washington, DC argue that the amendment would leave large loopholes in a food safety bill they’ve been fighting for over a year.

The unanimous consent agreement offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week would allow Tester to bring his amendment to the floor during debate. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) remains opposed to the UC proposal, creating a roadblock for the bill unless Reid decides to take the time to invoke cloture.

Tester offered a hint of optimism for the legislation, which has been pronounced dead by several media outlets.


showed some leanings toward pulling his hold on the bill this last

week, so we’re hopeful that will happen soon at this point,” said


  • With serious inflation around the corner, the half million dollar limit could be reached very easily. The govt’s own farm statistics show that very small farms, under a quarter million annually, are just a small factor while those family farms already near the limit amount for most of the locally produced foods.
    The Tester amendment fails to protect real local food production from bureaucratic interference.
    S.510 needs to be defeated and the new Congress needs to consider ways and means to protect local food sources from forced industrialization.

  • Michael Bulger

    First of all, the USDA considers under $250,000 to be a “small farm”, not a “very small farm”. They are treated differently under S. 510, so it is important to make this distinction.
    Secondly, the income threshold of the Tester amendment reveals itself to be flawed in its sole reliance on financial markers. Seeing as market prices fluctuate on both the sales and expenses ends of agriculture, facilities will be moving in and out of exemption and regulation. This will in fact complicate the regulatory process, incurring more administration costs for both government and farmers.
    A much more sensible approach would be to consider other thresholds, such as risk factor and volume of production. Those would be fixed to a greater degree. Furthermore, they serve the purpose of food safety more directly than mere income. When thresholds have been determined, the administration directives need to be flexible enough for the Secretary to offer compliance timeframes to businesses crossing these thresholds.

  • Doc Mudd

    So, as we argue we discover that ‘scale’ cannot be so easily pigeon-holed; it has no significance.
    Turns out food is food is food is food…and food safety is an important issue at all phases of operation.
    Make modern food safety legislation apply to all food, from any source that is sold to American consumers. No exceptions. No excuses. No tantrums. No crocodile tears.
    Maybe the only scale-appropriate measure that’s required is in regard to educating loopy little hobby farmers and their activist handlers – instead of swatting them upside the head with a 2X4, probably a generous length of 4X6 would be more appropriate. Even then, I doubt you could knock any sense into them. Let’s just say I’ve really come to “know my farmer” these past several months by their comments here at Food Safety News.

  • Michael Bulger

    Doc, if you live near Santa Fe maybe you might like this farmer.
    Beneficial CSA.

  • dangermaus

    Thank goodness. Maybe we CAN have a sane laws about food.

  • It’s embarrassing, but I didn’t click the link and read the updated version of the Tester amendment until last night. I guess I assumed it was more of the same, but in fact it’s become more complicated and in doing so become more clear.
    It specifies the monetary value of sales adjusted for inflation, not adjusted-gross income, as a threshold. That removes some of my worries.
    I also like the inclusion of the word “AND” that stipulates a qualified facility must generate these sales AND have over half of sales within the same state/within 400 miles. These sales must be to “qualified end-users”.
    Tester’s amendment basically clears up the question of its being manipulated to apply to producers within a longer production chain.
    The facilities still have to submit a written plan, but it doesn’t seem to be as intensive plan-maitnence regimen. They’re still subject to mandatory recalls, must label their food for tracing purposes, and are subject to inspections.
    As a bonus, it has directions to DHHS and USDA to perform a joint-study on the food processing sector. This will determine the definition of the terms “small business” and “very small business” for the Act. What I like, is that they will be collecting market data that might be used as the basis for loans and insurance. Can anyone say more fair financial support for direct-marketers and fruits and vegetables not being wholesaled for processing?
    If I got anything wrong here, I’d love to hear about it. Otherwise, I’d call this downright exciting.

  • Lisa

    GO Tester. I for one am a fan of the CSA’s. I hate GE food. I am not a molecular biologist, however, I have more knowledge than most about cellular activity. Inserting new genes and insecticides and herbicides into plant DNA is NOT safe. It is not moving on into the future.Sure a bigger yield is nice.. NO bugs is nice too, but that is not realistic. This planet has life on it and every life has its own purpose. You start messing with laws of nature and there will be trouble. Horizontal gene transfer and antibiotic resistance has ALREADY occured and is occuring all because Monsanto is using antibiotic resistant markers. The majority of MOnsanto and FDA workers leave their brains at the door when they head off to work. SOLD their souls for profit. The public is no longer the client. The client is the industry.

  • Ed Vickers

    “First of all, the USDA considers under $250,000 to be a “small farm”, not a “very small farm”. They are treated differently under S. 510, so it is important to make this distinction”
    Why treat them at all? The people of this country want the option of non-GMO food which food conglomerates like Monsanto do not want. I guess more farm-aid concerts after this bill goes through. Again the government doesn’t listen to the people.

  • Bix

    Small farmers won’t go out of business. This is a scare tactic. They will manage costs by passing them on to their consumers.
    People can have any food they want – local, organic, non-GMO, artisan – any food. They just have to pay for it.
    It is deplorable that with 1 in 5 Americans receiving food assistance in this country (and those, according to the USDA*, are only the ones who receive it, not everyone who is eligible), assistance that restricts purchase of organic/artisan/specialty food, we have a contingent that wants to exempt a tiny group of high-end profiteers from sensible food safety legislation.
    The more effective way to boost production and sales of organic, local, specialty food is to allow food assistance monies (currently around $61 billion/year!) to be used for their purchase – to increase this market. I’m sad to think that some food activists care more about their own plate than the plates of millions of less fortunate Americans.

  • Ron R

    And I MUST jump in here and question anyone who wants to apply the same standards to the “small Family farmer” as those that NEED to be applied to the mega corporate farms who are willing, and currently actively pursuing, any and all means available to maximize their output in order to boost their bottom lines and satisfy stockholders REGARDLESS of the well documented health hazards of the plethora of methods they are willing to use to squeeze an extra dollar out of every acre they use to produce the vegetables, fruit, meat, and everything else they produce to sell to an American public who are largely left/deliberately kept in the dark as to the dangers of the products and methods they use to quadruple their profits in selling their poisoned products to the American public – not to even mention the nearly totally unregulated products imported into our country for sale to our citizens with little OR ABSOLUTELY NO OVERSIGHT as to the products the foreign producers/growers use to boost their total exports to our markets – while many of the countries sending produce to our grocery stores use barely treated raw sewage water to irrigate their crops, growth hormones that are illegal and banned in our country, and endless other hazardous items to boost their production – while our “FOOD SAFETY EXPERTS” look the other way – and yet the FDA and our government chooses to go after the small American family farms – the MOST honorable of growers from which I’m a 4th generation member – although I CAN STATE WITHOUT ANY MEASURE OF DOUBT IS BY FAR THE LEAST LIKELY to produce crops, meats, or anything else that have been produced using additives of ANY TYPE to artificially boost production or total output in terms of what they choose to put on the market as part of our national food supply… The true American family farmer would be THE LAST PERSON TO ADD ANY OR ALL OF THAT CRAP TO OUR FOOD TO SIMPLY INCREASE THEIR PROFITS BY 10% – THE AMERICAN FAMILY FARMER HAS A GENERATIONS DEEP TRADITION OF PRODUCING THE BEST QUALITY FOOD POSSIBLE FOR SALE TO THEIR FELLOW AMERICANS – THE TOTAL 180 DEGREE OPPOSITE OF THE CORPORATE FARMS WHO ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN PRODUCING EVERY NICKEL OF PROFIT POSSIBLE REGARDLESS OF WHAT THEIR PRODUCTS DO TO THE HEALTH OF OUR CITIZENS… AND YET THEY ARE THE ONES WHO BENEFIT 1000% MORE FROM ALL THE FARM SUBSIDIES THAT THE ASSHOLES IN WASHINGTON INSIST ON DOLING OUT TO ONLY THOSE WHO MAKE THE LARGEST CONTRIBUTIONS TO THEIR REELECTION CAMPAIGNS !!!