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Food Safety and Local Farming

May 28, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The two food safety bills in Congress – H.R. 875 and H.R. 759 – are very unpopular. Both bills, people say, would put small organic farms and CSAs out of business by forcing them to jump through the same set of hoops as big agribusiness companies like Monsanto.

Both bill pages on OpenCongress show the level of opposition, which is significantly stronger for H.R. 875. The section-by-section bill text comments left by users are especially helpful for understanding the perceived problems with the legislation. Scroll over the text on that page and click “comments” where there is a speech bubble in the right-hand column to view the analysis.

But apparently neither of those bills will be used as the framework for Congress’ attempt at improving food safety. The House Energy and Commerce Committee just released a discussion draft of a new bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, that, with the blessings of Rep. Henry Waxman [D, CA-30], will be the one that moves forward in Congress. It’s based largely off the unpopular (but less so) H.R. 759.

The official committee announcement, bill summary and discussion draft can be gotten here. Below is the initial summary from the food politics blog La Vida Locavore:

* Gives the FDA mandatory recall authority.

* Requires all food producers to register with the FDA & pay a registration fee of $1000. It applies to both US and foreign producers and will fund the FDA’s activities.

* Requires companies to prepare food safety plans. The FDA can audit them and can specify minimum requirements.

* The FDA is required to issue food safety regulations for production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. This worries me A LOT. The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement provided “safety” guidelines for leafy greens that were absolutely idiotic and harmful. That is what we DON’T want to see happen here. However, that part will be hammered out by the FDA, not by Congress. It’s just something to pay attention to for the future.

* Inspections: High risk facilities must be inspected every 6-18 mos. Lower risk facilities can be inspected every 18 mos to 3 years. Warehouses must be inspected every 3-4 years.

* Traceability:

FDA would be required to issue regulations that require food producers, manufacturers, processors, transporter, or holders to maintain the full pedigree of the origin and previous distribution history of the food and to link that history with the subsequent distribution history of the food; and to establish an interoperable record to ensure fast and efficient traceback (current law permits facilities to hold a record in any format – paper or electronic – making efficient tracing of foods difficult for FDA). Prior to issuing such regulations, FDA would be required to conduct a feasibility study, public meetings, and a pilot project.

Farms that sell directly to consumers or restaurants are exempted from this provision.

* The bill does NOT include: A requirement that companies test for pathogens and report positive results to the FDA. THIS SHOULD BE ADDED to the bill, if we’re going to have a strong and effective bill
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