Battle lines form over Senate food safety bill to fine-tune ‘done deal’

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, April 14 – One sign of intense interest in and likely swift passage of the Senate’s Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) is that senators and interest groups are lining up to ask for last-minute changes. In a press conference Wednesday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) announced that to resolve “unique issues that face family food producers,” he is offering two amendments “to exempt small-scale businesses from expensive federal regulations and red tape.”

With the bill expected to be taken up by the full Senate next week, the bipartisan bill’s sponsors have issued reassurances that the bill already contains provisions which will ensure that small-scale businesses will not be subjected to “expensive federal regulations and red tape.” A fact sheet on the bill includes these specific promises:

No Change in Agency for Regulated Foods
Only foods already regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be affected, maintaining the existing firewall between FDA and USDA regulated foods and agricultural products.

No Change in Definition of Facility
Under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, certain food businesses were considered “facilities” and had to register with FDA. Farms and restaurants were exempted. If an entity does not need to register now, it will not need to register under S. 510. 

Flexibility for Small Businesses
Small businesses are given regulatory flexibility throughout S. 510. Small processors are given additional time to comply with new food safety practices and guidelines created by the bill.

Produce Safety Standards
The legislation gives FDA the authority, working with USDA, to develop science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Priority is given to specific fruits and vegetables with the highest risk of causing foodborne illness. Flexibility is given for different growing, production, and harvesting techniques.

The bill requires FDA to coordinate with the extension activities of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in educating growers and small processors about any new required practices.

To trace back potentially unsafe food in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak, farms and small businesses that are not food facilities may satisfy traceability requirements with records kept in “the normal course of business.”

Regulatory Flexibility for Organic Foods
The bill gives consideration to “the unique agricultural practices and requirements of organic foods.”

Farmers Markets, Cottage Industries and Direct Farm-to-Market Sales
Small entities that produce food for their own consumption or market directly to consumers, or restaurants are not subject to registration or new recordkeeping requirements. This exemption covers food sold through farmers’ markets, bake sales, public events and organizational fundraisers. 

Despite such reassurances, Senator Tester said Wednesday that “dangerous food-borne outbreaks don’t start with family agriculture. Food produced on that scale shouldn’t be subject to the same expensive federal regulations as some big factory that mass produces food for the entire country.” Tester maintains that the bill would add a new layer of regulation to even the smallest food producers and that “The same rules that would apply to large, corporate food companies would also apply to family food producers across Montana and rural America, which are already regulated at the state and local level.”

According to Tester, “When you buy some vegetables or a jar of jam from your local farmers’ market, you’re buying the cleanest, freshest, healthiest food available, directly from the producer. Family farms and ranches have enough hurdles to jump over just trying to make a living. They don’t need expensive, redundant regulation that could put them out of business.”

Tester’s two amendments are intended to make sure the following food producers will only be subject to state and local regulation, “not to new expensive federal regulations designed for industrial food factories”:

·        “Producers that add value to food through processing and whose adjusted gross income is less than $500,000 per year;”

·        “Producers who sell their food directly to market (such as farmers’ markets).”

Tester said he welcomes the goals of the overall bill, but warns against over-regulation of small, local producers.

To read the text of Tester’s two amendments, go to: and

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