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Nov 30, 2010   |  Billings Gazette

Food Safety Bill passes with Montana amendments

Billings Gazette

By: Tom Lutey

A bill calling for sweeping reforms in the nation's food safety regulations passed the U.S. Senate Tuesday with small business exceptions sought by Montanans.

Crafted in response to several national food poisoning outbreaks, the bill gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to impose mandatory food recalls. It passed 73 to 25.

Currently, recalls by food companies suspected of making people sick are voluntary, with the FDA urging cooperation when contamination is found.

The bill also increases inspection requirements not only for finished foods, but also for the types of hard-to-trace raw ingredients that have contaminated myriad products from multiple manufacturers making the source of food contamination hard to determine.

Those changes were considered too broad, by small businesses and farms selling food at local grocery stores, farmers markets and restaurants. The groups worried the cost of compliance would put them out of business.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., managed to get the Food Safety and Modernization Act amended so that small businesses and farms marketing products locally would continue to be regulated by state and local authorities.

The bill, which now must be reconciled by one passed in the House in mid 2009, was delayed several times over the past year.

Tester said after Tuesday's vote that it was significant to get the bill passed in the lame duck session of the Senate.

"I think it was a big deal. If you take a look at the incidents of issues in the food supply, e coli and whatever, it was very important and it was important to get it done right," Tester said.

The amendment exempts food processors and small farms that market locally at the grocery, restaurant and retail level, provided they have less than $500,000 a year in sales. Those producers have to sell their products in state or within 275 miles of where the food was produced.

Provided food safety didn't become an issue, those small players would remain under local government control. However, if local governments failed to regulate, or illness did occur, the FDA would have the right to intervene.

The bill was applauded by local food advocates like the Good Earth Market and the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Tester's amendment was also criticized by New York Times, which said exemptions to FDA enforcement undermined food safety.

However the amendment was also called essential by the Michael Pollan, author of the "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual" and Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation" and producer of the documentary "Food Inc."
 

Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.

Billings

Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768

Bozeman

Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647

Butte

Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586

Helena

208 North Montana Avenue
Suite 104
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462

Kalispell

8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974

Missoula

130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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