Is the Food Safety Bill Too Hard on Small Farms?April 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
Before the Senate moves into the world of financial regulatory reform, they’re going to take up a major food safety bill next week, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, that would make food facility inspections more frequent, improve verification of the safety of imported foods, give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods, and more.
As non-controversial and obvious as the bill sounds — nobody likes E. coli with their spinach or salmonella with their eggs — a lot of people are firmly against it. Check out, for example, the 22% approval rating it has on OpenCongress.
Why all the opposition? Well, the bill doesn’t distinguish between huge agribusiness food producers and local farms, and the burden of some of the new regulations could be just too much for small-scale food producers to keep up with. Or so the argument goes.
Local-food advocates are pretty much concerned with two sections of the bill — Sec. 103, requiring food facilities to have hazard analysis and risk-based preventative control plans, and Sec. 204, setting up a new traceability system that would require food producers to keep intricate records and submit them regularly to the FDA.
Last week, a dozens of organizations from across the political spectrum sent a letter to Congress expressing their concerns with the negative impact they think these provisions would have on local food producers:
All of the well-publicized incidents of contamination in recent years – whether in spinach, peppers, or peanuts – occurred in industrialized food supply chains that span national and even international boundaries. The food safety problems in this system can and should be addressed without harming the local food systems that provide an alternative for consumers. […]
Farmers and processors who sell directly to consumers and end users have a direct relationship with their customers that ensures quality, safety, transparency and accountability. In addition, small-scale food producers are already regulated by local and state authorities, and the potential risk their products pose is inherently limited by their size. For these farmers and processors, new federal requirements are unnecessary and would simply harm both the food producers and their consumers.
According to Food Safety News, the Senate is going to hold a vote on an amendment (.pdf) from Senator and organic farmer Jon Tester [D, MT] that would exempt food facilities with less than $500,000 in gross sales from the requirements of Sections 103 and 204. It’s hard to predict how much support the amendment will have, but my guess is it has a pretty steep climb to get the 60 votes it will nee to break a filibuster and pass the Senate given the amount of money big agribusiness has been pouring into senators’ campaigns and my hunch that $500,000 is high and will be perceived as creating too broad of an exemption.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the bill than Sec. 103 and Sec. 204, and most of it is non-controversial and generally supported. For more detailed information, here’s a link to a 4-page section-by-section summary (.pdf).