The $1.4 billion food safety bill (S. 510) has passed the Senate 73-25. The bill could increase the government’s powers through more inspections of food processing facilities, as well as allowing the government to mandate food recalls. In addition, it would put stricter standards on imported foods and require FDA to create new produce safety regulations.
Many operators of smaller farms opposed the initial bill, saying the increased cost of running their operations due to the changes could put them out of business. Senate sponsors adjusted the bill with a small business provision, eliminating some of the fees and reducing the number of mandatory inspections.
Despite the bill’s bipartisan support, there still is a possibility it could die, due to the lack of time for debate between the Senate and the House of Representatives before the end of the year.
In its current form, the legislation would:
- Allow FDA to order a recall of tainted foods.
- Require larger food processors and manufacturers to register with FDA and create detailed food safety plans.
- Exempt farmers selling less than $500,000 each year that “directly market to consumers in a 275 mile areas.
- Require FDA to create new produce safety regulations for producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables.
- Establish stricter standards for imported food.
- Increase inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities, directing the most resources to those operations with the highest risk profiles.
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The following is the response from United Fresh Produce Association senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther:
“We are disappointed that the Senate continues to ignore the egregious loopholes allowed in this legislation that will erode consumer confidence in our nation’s food safety system. Now, when going to a supermarket, restaurant, farmers market or roadside stand, consumers will be faced with the question of whether the fruits and vegetables offered for sale adhere to basic food safety standards or not. Unfortunately, instead of adhering to a science- and risk-based approach that was consistently the foundation of the underlying bill, the Senate has chosen to include a provision that will exempt certain segments of the food industry based on the size of operation, geographic location and customer base. This provision creates a gaping hole in the ability of consumers to trust the safety of all foods in the commercial marketplace.
“As S. 510 moves to the House of Representatives, we strongly encourage the House leadership to request a conference to reconcile differences between the House-passed food safety legislation and the flawed Senate bill. The House bill makes no arbitrary exemptions from basic food safety standards. This principle is at risk of being discarded for temporary convenience to pass a bill, but it is a fundamental mistake that will come back to haunt consumers, the food industry and even those producers who think they are escaping from food safety requirements.
“The House should give due diligence to conference these bills, not accept a flawed agreement that flies in the face of sound science.”