It is long past time to pass S. 510, The Food Safety Modernization Act, with the amendment from  senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) folded in–at least after the election in the lame duck session.

As I have wandered the halls of Congress, pushing one food safety bill or another, testifying or supporting a testifying client, I have been struck in the last dozen years how these quotes continue to ring true:

“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”–Bismarck

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”– Voltaire

I think that for anyone who has read and followed this legislation (S. 510) cannot disagree with Bismarck or Voltaire.  Some see the passage as a way to reduce foodborne illnesses to zero and others see the legislation as the end of the world as we know it.  It has clearly been a process filled with hyperbole and half truths on each side of the equation.

However, behind the scenes small farm groups and food safety advocates have come together with reasonable senators and their staffs to forge meaningful compromises that protect small farms and food safety.  The Tester – Hagen amendment is one of those compromises.

The amendment will offer protections for operations (a.k.a. “qualified facilities”) that make less than $500,000 a year and sell most (greater than 50 percent) of their products directly to consumers in the same state and within a 400-mile radius.

The amendment also applies to all operations that the FDA classifies as a “very small business.”  Small, local farmers would not necessarily need to comply with some of the requirements and produce safety regulations implemented under S. 510.  Instead, these small-scale producers (like those who sell their goods at farmers markets or roadside stands) would continue to be regulated by local and state entities.

In addition, consumers would know whom they are buying from either by direct sales or clear labeling.

I think one of the most useful provisions of the amendment is the requirement of the HHS and AG Secretaries to conduct a study to determine “the incidence of foodborne illness originating from each size and type of operations and type of food facilities… [and] … the effect on foodborne illness risk associated with commingling, processing, transporting and storing food and raw agricultural commodities, including differences in risk based on the scale and duration of such activities.”

Having knowledge of what are the real risks, and how outbreaks actually happen, would allow for the sharpening or relaxing of rules that make sense. One size may or may not fit all.

The Tester – Hagen amendment may not be perfect, but it is sausage that you can eat.

  • Daniel

    This bill is a blatant violation of the 10th Amendment. How can putting the entire food supply of the U.S. under the control of one person (The Secretary of Health and Human Services) not be fascism. This bill is not about food safety. It is about protecting the profits of the industrial food processors whose “modern” food processing methods have been the cause of the recent e-coli and salmonella break outs. Who are the supporters of this bill and are exempt from its jurisdiction. In S.510 farms and restaurants are exempt. CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where thousands of animals live in their manure are considered farms. The purpose of S.510 and HR.2749 is to drive Organic Farmers out of business.

  • dangermaus

    I remain skeptical about whether the FDA will actually make a difference after they’re given the authority and resources in this bill. It’ll take several years to collect and aggregate data for the statistics showing one way or the other. At least the aspects of it that made it such a threat to small farmers (and, of course thier customers’s ability to buy from them) have been ameleorated by the Tester Amendment.
    I’m still convinced that FSMA does not address the real problems with food we have – that we eat too much preserved, processed foods, that we eat too much of it. We will have to change fundamentally the way that we think about, eat, prepare and produce most of the food in this country before we’ll see changes to food-related disease in this country (obesity, diabetes, etc). We need to think more about what we eat, what went into bringing it to our tables and spend more time preparing and enjoying it!

  • dangermaus

    FSMA is not about food, it’s about the APPEARANCE OF trying to prevent certain microbes in food from making it to market. It was written in a way that pursues that illusory goal at all costs – even if that cost is that we are left us with nothing but processed franken-foods produced by fewer than a dozen multi-billion dollar corporations, and wild birds near your chickens gets your farm shut down by the feds. At least the Tester Amendment gives small farmers and producers SOME breathing room while local food economies continue to expand.
    I’m sure the germophobes those capitalizing on fear about food-borne illness will continue to try to pass the original version of this legislation again in the future (because I think they believe in a flawed notion that we can somehow unplug ourselves from the biosphere) so we’ll need to be vigilant to stop them next time, too.