The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) has scheduled a markup of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, almost nine months after Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the measure.
The bill would be a big boost for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by providing the agency with greater authority and mandate. The bill would require more inspections of food facilities, grant the agency access to food safety records, and require facilities to have food safety plans in place.
Though the markup, scheduled for November 18th, is a critical step in the progress of the legislation, sources on the Hill downplayed the possibility that the bill had any chance to make it to a vote before Christmas.
Food safety advocates now hope the bill will be reported out of committee before Thanksgiving.
Leading up to the meeting, the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, is pushing for three changes to strengthen the legislation.
The coalition, which consists of consumer advocacy and public health groups, wants to strengthen frequency requirements for high-risk food facilities (by including the 6 to 12 month minimum standard in the House version), improve the import and traceability requirements, and include language that would require the FDA to issue rules for testing food for contamination.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is also pressing the committee to make changes to the bill, which would extend limited FDA authority to on-farm production.
Though NSAC has not issued specific amendment recommendations, the group recently released a policy brief. According to the brief, "NSAC urges policymakers to ensure that standards and regulations encourage farmers to seek out innovations and a more sustainable agriculture, and at least not create additional barriers to the widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture practices."
NSAC will be issuing an alert to its network in the next few days to rally support for modifications that would lessen the impact on small and mid-sized sustainable and organic farms.
Farm Food Safety Bill Introduced
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 2758, the Growing Safe Food Act, yesterday to help educate and train farmers and food processors in food safety.
The proposed legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senators Bingaman, Boxer, Gillibrand, Leahy Merkley and Sanders, comes as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, a bill that would greatly increase resources and authority for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, continues to be stalled in the Senate behind health care reform.
Stabenow believes her proposal will help small and mid-sized farmers, food processors, and wholesalers comply with the pending food safety overhaul, which is likely to pass once there is room in the Senate schedule.
"With all the recent scares over contaminated food, this legislation will help restore consumer trust in the safety of our food supply," said Stabenow. "Providing training to farmers and processors on things like handling practices and safe packaging will go a long way toward restoring this confidence."
The training program proposed would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Integrated Food Safety Initiative. State agriculture departments, extension services, agricultural trade associations, and universities would be eligible to apply for grant support to promote training programs.
According to a statement released by Stabenow's office, "Training can be in the areas of handling practices, manufacturing, produce safety standards, risk analysis, sanitation standards, safe packaging, storage, traceability, record-keeping, and food safety audits."
The proposed bill also stipulates that existing conservation, biodiversity, and organic farming standards would have to be taken into account in the development of any training program receiving funds.