New Food Safety bill headed to President Obama's desk

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 22 - The House approved major food safety legislation 215-144 on Tuesday, providing the most significant reform of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) oversight of the nation's food supply in over seventy years. The measure is expected to be signed by President Obama after he returns from his Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

The law will give FDA expanded authority over approximately 80% of the food supply by providing the agency mandatory recall powers and expanded access to records.  It also requires most growers and food facilities to implement food safety plans and foreign facilities importing food to the U.S. must meet the same standards. FDA's authority does not include USDA-regulated meat and poultry products

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"This is a big victory for consumers that finally bring food-safety laws into the 21st century,” said Jean Halloran, the director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick. This win is for them and all Americans. For a long time, we've been saying that we needed to do a better job of making sure our food is safe, and under this bill, we will."


The United Fresh Produce Association has long supported reform of the food safety system, but expressed concern about an amendment from Senators John Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) that exempts certain farms.


“The legislation passed today on Capitol Hill ensures a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA, will be integrated into the food safety framework moving forward,” said United Fresh Produce Association Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther.


“The good in this bill, however, is still accompanied by the bad, and the Food Safety Modernization Act still contains an amendment from Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina that threatens the health and well-being of a nation of consumers by exempting some producers and processors based only on the size of their business, their geographic location, or to whom they sell their products. This inclusion of exemptions based on non-scientific qualifications will limit the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have met the same food safety standards. We remain fearful that this profound error will come back to haunt Congress, public health agencies, and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions, but more importantly, we are fearful of what may slip through the food safety loopholes created by the Tester/Hagan Amendment and adversely affect consumers in the United States.


Under Tester's amendment, food producers would not be subject to new federal requirements if they:

·         Sell the majority of their food directly to consumers, restaurants, and retailers within the state, or within a 275-mile radius of where it was produced, and

·         Have less than $500,000 per year in sales.


Sen. Jon Tester issued the following statement after House passage of the bill.


“Common sense won over tired old political excuses today.  The members of the House who voted for safer food also voted to protect the jobs and livelihoods of countless family farmers and food producers in Montana and across rural America.  After unanimous passage of this bill in the Senate, I'm proud to say this is a bipartisan victory.  I look forward to this bill becoming law.”

Those producers would, however, continue to be overseen by local and state food safety and health agencies.

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