Will The Food Safety Bill Make Our Meals Safer?

Kathy Means

Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, Produce Marketing Association

UPDATE:The addition of an amendment Thursday in the Senate caused the produce industry to now oppose the bill.

"An amendment that was added to the bill by Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) on the eve of the now-ongoing Senate debate exempts processors or farmers who meet certain criteria unrelated to risk. For example, it would exempt a food facility or farm if it has sales of $500,000 or less, or sells half of its food to retailers, restaurants, or consumers in the same state or within 275 miles. If this were enacted, federal regulation would apply based on where the food is sold and how much it earns – neither of which are risk factors," said Produce Marketing Association Brian Silberman in a letter to association members.

Here are PMA's original reasons for supporting the previous version of the bill:

"At PMA, we have supported food safety reform -- legislative and regulatory -- for years. We believe everyone needs to be covered so that we don't have any holes in the food safety net. Germs don't discriminate based on region, crop, size of farm, or anything else."

"Though not perfect (what bill ever is?), the bill being considered by the Senate has provisions we endorse, including a science- and risk-based approach to food safety that applies to everyone."

"I'm not sure what we may see in the way of amendments, but we wouldn't want to see anything that might weaken consumer protection applied to this bill. Consumer confidence is essential to our industry, and having national safety standards for all is critical to building that confidence."

"I know that some have talked about exempting smaller growers. We oppose those exemptions but we support efforts to provide technical assistance, training, extended transition timeframes for compliance, and financial support as ways to help small businesses with food safety. There are efforts under way already through USDA grants in several states (including our home state of Delaware) to help smaller growers develop stronger food safety programs."

"So the upshot is that we urge the Senate to move forward on this bill right away and to reject amendments that could weaken it."

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

Author

"I think the bill is important and will take some important steps toward making at least part of the food chain safer (it doesn't deal with meat at all), however there is concern among small farmers and food producers that the regulatory burden will be so onerous as to stifle the renaissance of local food production underway. The manager's amendment goes some distance toward averting this, and so does the Tester amendment. I think if the bill passes without either of those amendments it will hurt small farmers -- who are not the main source of our food safety problems."

Patty Lovera

Assistant Director, Food & Water Watch

"There has been a lot of controversy about the impact that FDA reform legislation could have on small farms and small food processing businesses. There are several pieces of the Senate bill that address this, and one more, an amendment by Senators Tester and Hagan, would exempt small farms and processors from some requirements of the bill if they meet certain conditions. We support that amendment and think it should be in the final version of the bill, to make sure that FDA is focused on inspecting and regulating the largest operations that produce the most food."

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