Two Takes on the Senate Food Safety Bill

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Yesterday, I posted comments from the Consumers Federation of America about the latest version of S.510 (PDF). With luck, the Senate will vote to pass this bill in September and will reconcile its version with the House bill passed a year ago. Here are two comments based on Senator Harkins's staff analyses:

1. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) says that the latest version of the bill includes these improvements (my emphasis):

• The amendment sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pertaining to farms that engage in value-added processing or that co-mingle product from several farms. 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) to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation. The Bennet language pertains to both the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill. FDA is instructed to provide flexibility for small processors including on-farm processing, to minimize the burden of compliance with regulations, and to 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. The training projects will prioritize small and mid-scale farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and small food processors and wholesalers. The program will 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 is also 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 that will exempt food that is direct marketed from farmers to consumers or to grocery stores and exempt food that has labeling that preserves the identity of the farm that produced the food.
The amendment also prevents FDA from requiring any farm from needing to keep records beyond the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm, except in the case of farms that co-mingle product from multiple farms, in which case they must also keep records one step back as well as one step forward.

2. Bill Marler provides additional information:

Here is Chairman Harkin's mark-up (PDF) and section by section summary (PDF)—this is the version of the bill voted out of the HELP Committee in mid-November, and here (PDF) is the most recently approved version as of last night.

Senator Feinstein has not released a copy of her BPA amendment—however, she is now saying it will only be baby bottles, sippy cups, baby food, and infant formula.

Here's the Senator Tester amendments as they were introduced in April (I'm sure the version they're working with now looks quite different after months of negotiations, but the principle is likely the same).

Marler also points out that only foods that are already regulated by FDA will be subject to S. 510, as its Section 403 maintains the existing firewall between FDA and USDA-regulated foods and agricultural products.

Keep reading. This is critically important legislation to help the FDA ensure food safety.

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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