WASHINGTON — Produce groups that had long supported the Food Safety Modernization Act have now taken exception to language that would exempt small farms and business.
Debate on the bill, Senate Bill 510, which provides additional resources to the Food and Drug Administration for policing food safety among other changes designed to enhance food safety, was scheduled to continue this week. The House version passed last year.
Both the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association have come out against the incorporation of language from the so-called Tester Amendment, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that exempts small farms and businesses from the preventative control provisions of the bill.
“Because the Tester Amendment language has been included in the bill, as we understand it, we need to oppose the entire bill,” Kathy Means, vice president of government relations at PMA, told SN. “Food-safety reform must be based on risk and science, and exemptions based on how far your food travels to market or how big your company is are not risk- or science-based.”
Similarly, the UFPA said the new language “rejects a risk-based approach to food safety, setting up a federal food safety system that adheres to arbitrary exemptions.”
The new language in the bill would exempt food producers with annual revenues under $500,000 who sell directly to consumers or retailers, or sell only within state lines or within 275 miles.
“We are not opposed to having accommodations of some sort for smaller growers, but we really cannot afford to have holes in the safety net,” said Means, who noted that some resources to help small producers comply already exist.
Bryan Silbermann, PMA's president and chief executive officer, sent a notice cautioning the group's members that small producers could lose sales if they do not participate in new federal food-safety procedures.
“We know buyers have already told local growers that they need to see their food-safety programs before they buy from them,” said Means.
Some small-business and other groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have supported the exemption for small producers.
In a letter to the Senate earlier this month, a coalition representing small farms and co-ops said many small-scale food producers are already regulated by local and state authorities anyway, “and the potential risk their products pose is inherently limited by their size.”
“For these farmers and processors, new federal requirements are unnecessary and would simply harm both the food producers and their consumers,” the letter stated.
In addition, some advocates of local food sourcing, including author Michael Pollan, have also spoken out in favor of the exemptions.
Tester, himself a farmer — he said his own farm would not be exempt — has been pushing for the amendment for some time, saying that the bill would have penalized small family farms and restricted their ability to sell via direct marketing and through farmers' markets.
Both Food Marketing Institute and National Grocers Association have been supportive of the legislation overall, which they see as helping promote food safety.
The Senate had voted 74 to 25 to resume debate on the bill following the election, but it had stalled again before the Thanksgiving recess last week.