After more twists than a 40 foot tapeworm, the Food Safety Modernization Act finally went back to the U.S. House of Representatives where it passed the Senate version of the bill by a vote of 215 to 144. The House vote three weeks of legislative limbo after the Senate originally passed the controversial bill on November 30th by a wide bipartisan margin of 73 to 25, but a procedural error in the Senate version caused the bill’s fate to hang uncertainly between Big Ag, Tea Party and other efforts to kill it.


Now the bill will head to President Obama’s desk where it joins a long line of legislation waiting to become law at the end of the lame duck 111th Congress.

Despite two years of heated debated in the sustainable and local food community, the food safety bill promises to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses by giving the agency mandatory recall authority and conduct more frequent inspection of “high-risk facilities” in an effort to more closely regulate food manufacturing, processing and distribution facilities.


According to the New York Times:


“Under the legislation, food manufacturers will be required to examine their processing systems to identify possible ways that food products can become contaminated and to develop detailed plans to keep that from happening. Companies must share those plans with the F.D.A., and provide the agency with records, including product test results, showing how effectively they carry them out.”


Despite the bill’s passage, many in the local food movement remain highly suspicious that the new bill will negatively impact small family farmers. Fortunately, Food Democracy Now! helped win small farmer protections in the passage of S.510 with members making more than 12,000 phone calls to the Senate to help pass the Tester-Hagan and Manager’s Amendments which offer a variety of protections for farmers engage in direct sales of products to consumers, farmers markets and restaurants.


According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which fought heroically for small farmer protections, the new food safety bill contains the following important provisions that offer precedent setting exemptions for family farm producers:


  • 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.
  • Senator Sanders (I-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 that preserves 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.