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Senate passes Food Safety Modernization Act

 |  Eco Catholic

On Tuesday Nov. 30, a year after it was reported out of Committee, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510)passed the Senate, 73-25.

The bill will now be sent to the House for their consideration. The House passed its own food safety bill (HR.2749) last year, but given the short
time remaining in this Congress, it would be extremely difficult to go
through a conference between the House and Senate and then bring a
conference bill back to both bodies for another vote. The only way to get
the bill finished and signed into law is for the House to adopt the Senate
bill and send it to the President.

The bill, which will require improved planning and record-keeping by food
producers and processors and will allow the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to make mandatory recalls of contaminated food, marks the most
sweeping overhaul of food safety regulations in nearly a century.

The final Senate bill includes six amendments that were worked on by NSAC
and that each became part of the Manager’s amendment that the Senate has now
approved. Those include the amendments championed by:

- Senator Sanders (D-VT) providing FDA 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.
- 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.
- Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to provide for a USDA-delivered
competitive grants program for food safety training for farmers, small
processors and wholesalers, with a priority on small and mid-scale farms.
- 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.
- 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 thatpreserves
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.
- Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to give very small
farms and food processing facilities as well as direct-market farms who sell locally the option of complying with state regulation or with modified,
scale-appropriate federal regulation.

Debate over the Tester-Hagan amendment consumed much of the final two weeks
of action on the bill. An accord between consumer groups who had originally
opposed the amendment and sustainable agriculture groups who supported it
helped clear the way to a bipartisan deal to incorporate the brokered
provision into the Manager’s amendment and thus into the final bill.

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Despite a fierce attack from produce and meat industry trade associations
opposing passage of the bill with the Tester-Hagan language included, the
Senate passed two cloture motions as well as final passage of the bill with
just one-quarter of the Senate voting no.

After the Manager’s Amendment was approved last night, the Senate voted down
four other amendments, including two amendments related to the health care
bill, a proposed 3-year moratorium on congressional earmarking, and a
substitute food safety bill introduced by Senator Coburn (R-OK).

The bill still faces the hurdle of final House action. Top House Democrats
have agreed to consider passing the Senate version to avoid lengthy
reconciliation negotiations that would prevent the bill from becoming law
and force the next Congress to start the entire process from scratch.

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