Food Safety Provisions Divide Small And Large ProducersTuesday, Nov. 17, 2009 by Jerry Hagstrom A food safety bill scheduled for a Senate committee markup Wednesday has come under fire from groups representing small farmers while key dairy groups have asked that inspection of raw milk be included in the bill. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin has scheduled the markup of the FDA modernization bill sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Durbin. The House passed a companion measure by a wide margin in the summer. The bills were developed in response to outbreaks of food-borne illness from fresh fruits and vegetables in recent years. The bills cover almost all foods except meat, poultry and processed eggs products, which are inspected by the Agriculture Department. On Monday, a small-farm coalition including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Farmers Union and key organic groups wrote Harkin and Senate HELP ranking member Michael Enzi that the bill would have "unnecessary and unintended negative impacts on family farms, value-added agricultural development, conservation and the environment, organic farming, and emerging local and regional food systems."
The groups proposed a two-track system that would exempt smaller farms from inspections but still require them to develop food safety plans. Small farms would be defined as those with annual average output below $1 million that do not mingle production with other farmers and are not involved in high-risk processing activities.
“We want to support the bill, but in its current form we cannot,” Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a news release. “It is not good policy to stick small and mid-sized family farms with large compliance costs to comply with industrial regulations.”
Both bills require producers, distributors and importers of foods under FDA’s jurisdiction to register with the FDA and be subject to inspection. Although the Senate bill does direct FDA to take into consideration the concerns of small farmers who sell directly to the public, Hoefner said in an interview, “This bill dramatically overreaches on how many farms come under FDA. Any farm that labels its products or puts apples in a bag [would be covered],” he said. “Every maple syrup producer gets regulated because the bill casts the net across almost all of American agriculture.”
Hoefner said the groups were particularly bothered that FDA would not have to do a food safety risk analysis before requiring inspections.
But larger fruit and vegetable producers, which have sought the bill to restore consumer confidence, are likely to resist exemptions for small producers. “We would question the rationality of [producers] being exempted from meeting food safety standards. We are fully supportive of finding ways to enable small growers to be able to meet those standards,” said Cathleen Enright, vice president for federal affairs at Western Growers, a trade association whose 3,000 members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh vegetables and nearly 70 percent of the fresh fruit and nuts grown in Arizona and California.
A draft of the Senate bill obtained by CongressDaily does not appear to require registration fees. But the House bill requires that each registered facility pay a $500 annual fee, and Hoefner said he fears the fee in the House-passed bill will be added in conference.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg praised the House fees, saying the FDA would need additional resources to carry out the new law. But Hoefner said a $500 fee is too high for small farms.
Also Monday, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation asked Harkin and Enzi to require all facilities producing raw or unpasteurized milk products for direct human consumption to register with the FDA and be subject to the same hazard analysis and monitoring as firms producing pasteurized products.
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