President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act today, after a long bout of legislative wrangling by local food advocates, small farmers and their allies for food safety rules that protect consumers without curbing the growing movement toward fresh, local and regional food. The food safety bill passed by the House in July of 2009 would have imposed a one size fits all regulatory system biased toward industrial agriculture with a regressive registration fee, expensive food safety plans, and regular on-farm FDA inspections regardless of the degree of the potential risk for food borne illness. The new regulatory burdens threatened to erect formidable barriers to the developing local and regional markets for many small and moderate sized farms.
In the past two years, small farm advocates worked to win small and mid-size farm amendments to the legislation. One organization that was key to the efforts was the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
The amendments incorporated into the Food Safety Modernization Act and signed today by the President include:
- An amendment, sponsored by Senator Sanders (I-VT), giving FDA 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.
- An amendment, sponsored by Senator Bennet (D-CO), to reduce unnecessary paperwork and excess regulation required under the preventative control plan and the produce standards sections of the bill, including instructions to FDA to minimize the number of different standards that apply to separate foods, to make requirements scale appropriate, and to prohibit FDA from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire outside consultants to write food safety plans.
- An amendment, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), to provide for a USDA-administered competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers, with a priority on small and mid-scale farms.
- An amendment, sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), to strip the bill of wildlife-threatening enforcement against “animal encroachment” of farms and require FDA to apply sound science to any requirements that might impact wildlife and wildlife habitat.
- An amendment, sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to exempt farmers from extensive and expensive traceability and recordkeeping requirements if they sell food directly to consumers or to grocery stores, to allow labeling that preserves the identity of the farm through to the consumer to satisfy traceability requirements, and to in most cases limit farm recordkeeping to the first point of sale when the product leaves the farm.
- An amendment, sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC),to provide a size appropriate and less costly alternative to preventative control plans and produce standards for farmers who:
- Direct market more than 50% of their products directly to consumers, stores or restaurants,
- Have gross sales (direct and non-direct combined) of less than $500,000,
- Sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants that are in-state or within 275 miles, and
- Provide their customers with their name, address and contact information.