Tester Seeks to Amend Food Safety Bill

Flathead Beacon

by Molly Priddy

Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced an amendment to exempt certain small farm operations from regulations in the upcoming Food Safety Bill.

Senate Bill 510, called the Food Safety Bill, is aimed at giving the federal Food and Drug Administration broader control when dealing with food-borne illnesses and recalls, including the power to increase food processor inspections and require more rigorous food safety standards.

Tester’s amendment would exempt small-scale food producers from the new regulations. Such producers must have annual sales of less than $500,000, and sell the majority of their product directly to consumers, restaurants and retailers within the same state or within 400 miles, or that fall within the FDA’s “very small business” category.

These producers would still be under local and state food safety and health organization oversight, according to a statement from Tester’s office.

“The folks with me here today know firsthand that food-borne illnesses don’t come from family agriculture,” Tester said in a statement after a visit with Missoula farmers in September. “As we do the vital work to make sure the food on our kitchen tables is safe, we’ve also got to make sure we don’t treat small producers the same way we treat big corporate farms. That’s exactly what my amendment will fix.”

The senator’s office reported that the amendment has the support from over 150 local, state, and national food organizations and by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL, introduced the Food Safety Bill last March and it was amended again last December. Opponents to the bill say it would be too costly for small producers, while proponents argue all food should be inspected the same way to avoid massive recalls.

Currently, the bill remains in the Senate for a vote after passing the House last year. According to the Associated Press, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, blocked consideration of the bill in late September because on fiscal concerns.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved to vote to end debate on the bill when Congress returns after the Nov. 2 elections, the Associated Press reported.