Congress may be on recess, but food safety politicking is in full swing.
A coalition backing the pending food safety bill sent an email to Senate offices Tuesday, soliciting support for the upcoming cloture vote. The email also asks for support in modifying the Tester amendment, a popular provision that would exempt small farmers from certain regulations.
The note reminds Senate offices that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture petition to bring the bill to the floor: “We anticipate a vote on Wednesday, November 17. We urge your senator to support this motion.”
The undersigned organizations–which include the American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, and The Pew Charitable Trusts–reiterate their support for the bipartisan manager’s package of amendments to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
The package does not include the Tester amendment, or Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) controversial amendment to ban the chemical bisphenol A from certain food packaging. “The package will strengthen protection of the nation’s food supply and provide key tools to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help prevent food contamination and to detect and attack foodborne disease outbreaks quickly and effectively,” reads the email.
“However, our organizations oppose the current draft of the Tester amendment and are deeply concerned about its impact on the safety of the food supply,” the groups continue. “Certain provisions of the amendment must be changed so that it does not weaken current law and exempt large amounts of food–including high-risk foods–from FDA regulation.”
The alert includes a white paper that outlines the concerns of the coalition, formally the Make Our Food Safe campaign.
According to Make Our Food Safe, “unintended consequences” of the amendment could “pose serious danger to consumers.”
“Problems with the amendment include, most importantly, the fact that it does not consider the risk of microbiological contamination and foodborne illness posed by a particular food in granting an exemption from federal food safety regulation,” reads the memo, which questions the amendment’s definition of local food and the $500,000 annual sales threshold.
“It is unclear if the $500,000 criterion is appropriate; we need to know what percentage of sales of fresh produce, and of FDA-regulated processed foods, firms of this size and smaller represent,” says the document. “Rather than setting a specific dollar amount in the statute, the Tester amendment should, instead, direct FDA to conduct an analysis of these two markets and determine an appropriate sales volume criterion for any exemption or modified requirements.”
Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a group fighting to have the amendment added to the bill on the Senate floor, called the document “surprisingly inaccurate,” but added that NSAC would not formally respond until later Wednesday.