Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Food and Ag Groups Rally Against Tester Amendment

As the Senate gears up to vote on a motion to limit debate and move the pending food safety bill forward on Wednesday, interest groups are kicking into high gear to lobby for and against key amendments.

Monday a group of 30 meat, pet food, and fresh produce industry groups sent a letter to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chairman and ranking members, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Michael Enzi (R-WY), respectively, urging key staff and lawmakers working on the bill to oppose a measure to exempt small farms and producers from the crux of the legislation.

"We believe an operation's size, the growing practices used, or its proximity to customers does not determine whether the food offered is safe," read the letter, which was signed by the American Meat Institute, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the United Egg Producers.

"What matters is that the operation implements prudent product safety practices, whether the product is purchased at a roadside stand, a farmers' market, or a large supermarket," continues the letter. "We support FDA food safety programs developed through a scientific, risk-based approach and that benefit public health."

As the food safety bill, which would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority and mandate over the food supply, has languished, an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), now also backed by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), has gained widespread support. The measure would ease the regulatory burden on small farmers and producers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and several other sustainable ag groups have been issuing a last round of action alerts to rally support for the Tester amendment.

"The bill takes important steps to improve corporate food safety rules but it is not appropriate for small farms and processors that sell to restaurants, food coops, groceries, schools, wholesalers and at farm stands and farmers markets," said NSAC in its alert late last week.

NSAC asked its supporters to call Senators in support of the Tester provision to prevent "one-size-fits-all" regulations from being created.

Though the details are still being worked out, insiders expect the Tester amendment to garner enough support to be added to the bill. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, also known as S. 510, is also expected to pass, with bipartisan support, this week.

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To read more on the debate over small farm and producer exemptions, see Debate Over Small Farm Exemptions Rolls On, October 26, 2010.

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