Food safety act a healthy balance: Don’t believe viral e-mails of misinformation; read sensible bill and Tester’s amendment for yourself


by Editorial

Strong bipartisan approval of the food safety bill – including a key amendment pushed by Montana's Sen. Jon Tester – in the Senate last week was immediately preceded by a last-minute public misinformation campaign.

Thus it was that even as 73 of the nation's senators cast their votes in support of the Food Safety Modernization Act, with only 25 in opposition, many Americans were deleting viral e-mails erroneously claiming the legislation would ban backyard gardens and other such nonsense.

The bill gives new regulatory powers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to control and prevent food-borne illness, basically through better record-keeping and inspection. It applies only to food producers overseen by the FDA – which covers most produce, eggs, dairy and seafood, but excludes meat and poultry.

The amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., further narrows the act's application by exempting farmers and food producers who earn less than $500,000 a year and who sell more than half of their products directly to consumers.

The amendment is important, Tester said in a phone interview with the Missoulian last week, because the goal of the act is to minimize the risk of food-borne pathogens and other contaminants, and small-scale, direct-market farmers simply don't pose the same risk as the big producers. Small producers are already adequately overseen by local and state health agencies, he added, so there is no need to burden them with an additional layer of regulations.

The amendment helped the bill strike a balance between the need to protect jobs in the food industry while also protecting consumers, Tester said in earlier statements, and helped the overall bill earn its bipartisan support.

Despite some widespread claims to the contrary, Tester's amendment does not apply to his own farm in Big Sandy – first of all, because it is primarily a grain-growing operation and is therefore not overseen by the FDA; and secondly because, like many grain farmers, Tester sells his product to a wholesaler and not directly to consumers.

Given the overwhelming Senate support for the current version of the bill, it should be a shoo-in for House representatives. However, the House must first iron out a few kinks – and possibly return it to the Senate for another vote – before sending it on to the president's desk.

With the clock running out before this Congress calls it a session, there is little time left to waste dispensing with every new round of false information. Those confronted with a seemingly outrageous or unbelievable "fact" connected to the food safety bill should take a moment to look the truth in the official bill itself – and spread that information instead.

The full text of S. 510 is available at A handy summary written by the Congressional Research Service is available online at