Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), the only farmer serving in the upper chamber, touted his work on the recently enacted food safety law before a sustainable food audience in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

“The thing about food policy is if you eat, it affects you,” said Tester in his remarks, which largely focused on his creds as an advocate for “good” agriculture policies, at Washington Post’s Future of Food conference at Georgetown University. Tester cited the heated, months-long debate over his amendment to exempt small farmers from key elements of the sweeping FDA Food Safety Modernization Act as an example of the increasing clout of the food movement.

“The Food Safety Bill was a much-needed overhaul of our food safety as it applied to vegetables and manufactured foods,” explained Tester, adding that he thought the bill needed to be “reworked” to consider small farmers.
“The bill needed to account for locally grown food from farming and processing operations that directly market their products to consumers,” he said, because he believes small farmers pose minimal risk “compared to the corporate farms that ship their products hundreds and hundreds of miles to their markets.”

“My argument throughout the debate was this: Family growers have more ‘eyeballs to the acre,’ ” said Tester. “They have more control over the food they produce. And if there is a problem, it’s not like some food factory that can send bags of lettuce to 40 different states in a matter of hours. The real problem was never with the folks who take their goods to the farmer’s market in a wheelbarrow,” he argued. “The real problem was with our centralized food system — the factories that churn out hundreds of jars of peanut butter every day – and ship them to every corner of the country.”

Tester noted that many well-funded food industry groups put up a considerable effort to defeat his amendment, arguing that no one should be exempt from the new law, but Tester and his coalition, made up largely of local food and consumer advocates, and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), eventually prevailed.
As Tester put it: “The corporate giants unleashed everything they had against a grain farmer from Big Sandy, Montana.”
“But in the end… guess… who… won? We won…We won because common sense prevailed. And that’s my message to you,” he added, in closing. “Smart, sustainable food policy is common sense.  And if you fight for it, you can win it.”