Tester wants to exempt small producers from new food safety rules

The Great Falls Tribune

by Ledge King

WASHINGTON — Family farmers and ranchers in Montana and elsewhere would be unduly hurt by new food safety regulations proposed in Congress, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is asking Senate leaders to exempt small producers.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, expected to hit the Senate floor next week, is a wellintentioned effort to crack down on large food processing plants in the wake of a number of food-borne diseases, Tester said. But it overreaches by adding a layer of bureaucracy that is not only unnecessary, but could put some farms out of business, he added.

“This is really looking out for the little guy,” Tester told reporters during a telephone conference announcing his request Wednesday. “We’re really taking a punch at people who don’t need to have a punch taken at them. These guys are very, very proud of their product, and they go the extra length to make sure the product that’s given to the consumer is the best they can have.”

Tester, an organic farmer from Big Sandy, said he would not fall under his proposed exemptions, which would affect producers who “add value to food through processing” and whose adjusted gross income is less than $500,000 annually, as well as those who sell their food directly to market, such as farmers’ markets or local hotels.

Chris Waldrop, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, said his organization opposes Tester’s proposal.

“Generally, we don’t think anyone should be exempt from having to produce safe food,” he said.

Tester said small producers already are covered by state and local regulations. However, Waldrop said a tough federal standard is needed because states vary widely in what they require.