Senate Food Safety Bill Includes Improvements That Support Farmers
Check it out, VT Senator Bernie Sanders' proposed amendment has now been written into the bill, in addition to other changes improving the bill for small scale farmers.
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NOTE: The food safety bill (S 510) was supposed to go to the full Senate next week, but as of Thursday, April 15, we have heard that the timing is being pushed back a week or two because the Senate will instead be debating finance reform.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) would provide long overdue strengthening of federal enforcement of food safety rules for industry, but would also significantly impact farmers.
In most areas of the legislation, sustainable agriculture and family farm groups think the Senate bill is a very significant improvement over the companion bill passed by the House of Representatives (HR 2749) last year. If the Senate passes the bill next week or soon thereafter, it will head to a conference committee to work out differences between the two bills.
With the Senate floor vote near, negotiations on changes to the bill have really picked up speed in the past week. All of the successfully negotiated changes will be packaged together in a “manager’s amendment” that will become part of the underlying bill when it reaches the Senate floor.
We are happy to report below on several very important breakthroughs on important improvements the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and its member organizations have been diligently working on that will be in the manager’s amendment. Final details on these provisions may take another day or two, but the negotiations are substantially complete enough to report below in general terms. We will post again as soon as the absolutely final versions of the accepted amendments named below are available.
- The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms will be included in the final bill. It will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the 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. Included within the purview of the amendment are exemptions or flexibilities with respect to requirements within S. 510 for food safety preventative control plans, and FDA on-farm inspections.
- The amendments sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will also be included in the final bill. These amendments, intended to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation, pertain to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill. FDA will be instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods. FDA will also be prohibited from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit those plans. With respect to produce standards, FDA will also be given the discretion to develop rules for categories of foods or for mixtures of foods rather than necessarily needing to have a separate rule for each specific commodity or to regulate specific crops if the real food safety issue involved mixtures only.
- The amendment sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers will also be part of the final bill. The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers. In order to comport with the FDA-specific nature of the overall bill, the farmer training grant program will be provided via a memorandum of understanding between FDA and USDA, but will then be administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. As is the case for all of the provisions in S. 510, funding for the bill and for this competitive grants program will happen through the annual agriculture appropriations bill process.
- The effort championed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms will also be in the manager’s package. It will require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat on farms.
An amendment proposed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to amend the traceability and recordkeeping section of the bill is still under negotiation. We hope to be able to report on the results of that discussion in the coming days. We remain very interested in maintaining or securing exemptions from traceback recordkeeping requirements for direct farmer-to-consumer or farmer-to-stores or restaurants sales as well as for farm identity preserved sales in general, and for limiting farmer recordkeeping to the point of first sale. More on this front as information becomes available.
Also in the mix are two amendments by Senator John Tester (D-MT) to exempt food facilities with under $500,000 gross sales from preventative control plan requirements and from traceback/recordkeeping. Those amendments will likely be debated separately as floor amendments next week and will not be part of the pre-negotiated manager’s package of amendments.
As we have previously reported, when the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and approved the bill late last year, NSAC helped secure several changes to S. 510 as it existed prior to markup. Those changes included:
- requiring FDA and USDA coordination (including with respect to organic farming),
- limiting recordkeeping for farmers to just the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop, and
- language in the produce section directing FDA to create rules that are appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm, that take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established by other federal agencies, that do not conflict with organic certification standards, and that prioritize high risk crops.
We’ve been able to help make substantial improvements in the Senate bill through the HELP markup and in changes that will be adopted as part of the manager’s amendment when the bill comes to the Senate floor. We will need to work hard to maintain these positions in the House-Senate Conference later this year.
If the improvements we have worked hard to secure can be retained in the final bill coming out of conference, attention will then need to turn to the FDA rulemaking and implementation process where the rubber will really hit the road. There will also be the non-trivial matter of funding – to become effective, the bill will require a significant increase in agricultural appropriations over the coming years, a difficult proposition under any circumstances and particularly difficult in the current fiscal climate.
In our view, the bill is far from perfect, but with the changes adopted in markup and with the changes that will be adopted in the manager’s amendment, the lead Senate sponsors of S. 510 [Senators Durbin (D-IL), Gregg (R-NH), Dodd (D-CT), Burr (R-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Enzi (R-WY)] have gone a long way toward addressing the very legitimate concerns of advocates for small and mid-scale farming, local and regional food systems, and conservation and organic farming.
In addition to the outstanding leadership from Senators Sanders, Bennet, Stabenow, and Boxer, Senators whose support helped secure the improvements for family farming and sustainable agriculture include Senators Bingaman (D-NM), Brown (D-OH), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Merkley (D-OR), Shaheen (D-NH), Specter (D-PA), and Tester (D-MT). We thank them all for their efforts.
We will provide further information later this week as the final details on the manager’s amendment are solidified and as other potential floor amendments come into focus. Should specific actions be required at that time, we will be sure to let our readers know.
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