Congress Sends Food Safety Bill to President’s Desk

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) On December 21, 2010, the House of Representatives voted 215-144 to pass the Senate version of the Food Safety Modernization Act, with the Tester-Hagan amendment protecting small farms intact.  This final vote by the House ends weeks of procedural wrangling, and sends the bill to the President’s desk for enactment. As we reported in a previous blog post, the food safety bill hit a roadblock after passing the Senate in late November because a provision requiring the collection of user fees violated the Constitutional mandate that all revenue-generating measures must originate in the House.  House leaders then attached the bill as an amendment to two separate spending bills, neither of which were able to gain sufficient support. Then, on Sunday, December 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) circumvented the original technical mistake by attaching the bill to a House-originated measure (HR 2751) authorizing a cash-for-clunkers program – a “shell bill” with bipartisan support.  The Senate approved this shell bill by voice vote.  The final bill passed today by the House mirrors the bill passed three weeks ago by the Senate.

It includes six NSAC-supported amendments championed by:
  • Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to give very small farms and food processing facilities as well as direct-market farms who sell locally the option of complying with state regulation or with modified, scale-appropriate federal regulation.
  • Senator Sanders (I-VT) providing FDA authority to either exempt farms engaged in low or no risk processing or co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations.
  • Senator Bennet (D-CO) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation required under the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill, including instructions to FDA to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods, to make requirements scale appropriate, and to prohibit FDA from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire outside consultants to write food safety plans.
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers, with a priority on small and mid-scale farms.
  • Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms and require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat.
  • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to exempt farmers from extensive and expensive traceability and recordkeeping  requirements  if they sell food directly to consumers or to grocery stores, to allow labeling that preserves the identity of the farm through to the consumer to satisfy traceability requirements, and to in most cases limit farm recordkeeping to the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm.
NSAC has been a primary player in negotiations over the content of the Food Safety Modernization Act for more than a year.  We regard passage of this bill as a great accomplishment, as it will help promote food safety with scale-appropriate standards.

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