Senate Committee Approves Food Safety Act

Here are items of interest from this week's National Sustainable Ag. Coalition (NSAC) weekly update:

*Senate HELP Approves Food Safety Act*:  On Wednesday, November 18, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved a revised version of S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Senate floor action is considered likely early next calendar year, though no one is entirely ruling out floor action yet in December.  The House has already passed its companion bill, so once the full Senate takes action the House and Senate will conference to work out the wide ranging differences between the two bills.

A bipartisan, modified version of S. 510 <> was presented to the Committee early last week by Chairman Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Enzi (R-WY), after having been negotiated under the auspices of Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Gregg (R-NH).  _The newly revised version includes several key planks from the NSAC position paper and legislative proposal_:

* In the fruit and vegetable (produce) standards section of the
bill, the new language requires coordination between FDA and USDA,
rather than merely requiring FDA to consult with USDA.  The
coordination specifically includes the National Organic Program.

Also in the fresh produce section, FDA is instructed to create rules that:

* are flexible and appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm,
* take into consideration conservation and environmental standards
established federal conservation, wildlife, and environmental
* not include requirements that conflict or duplicate organic standards,
* prioritize for implementation rules for crops that have been
associated with foodborne illness

In the traceability section, the bill was amended to restrict recordkeeping for produce farms (with the exception of produce farms that also have processing facilities) to information about the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop.

Senators involved in obtaining one or more of these provisions included Harkin, Enzi, Bennet, Bingaman, Brown, Burr, Franken, Merkley, and Sanders.

Many other NSAC proposals were _not_ included in the bill, including:

* A narrowing of the definition of farm "facility" to exempt farms
doing value-added processing of low-risk foods and targeting small
and mid-sized farms with value-adding enterprises for a
training-based food safety apparatus rather than industrial-style
* A national training program for farms and small processors,
previously introduced as a separate bill known as the Growing Safe
Food Act (see story below).
* Instructions to FDA to make new "good agricultural practice"
guidance scale appropriate, pro diversification, and consistent
with conservation and organic standards.
* An instruction to FDA to do public notice and comment rulemaking
on "animals of significant risk" with respect to pathogens of
concern for food safety, rather than the bill's current
instruction that FDA rules should prevent "animal encroachment"
with no reference to risk factors.
* An exemption from traceability requirements for direct farmer to
consumer, store, or restaurant sales or farm identity-preserved
labeling sales.

Only four amendments were accepted during markup, all without debate.  Two were by Senator Burr (R-NC), including one co-sponsored by Senator Bennet (D-CO) to require FDA to do several outreach sessions to farmers and small businesses on the new set of "good agricultural practices" to be developed by FDA.  The other two were by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) on fishery guidance and a food transportation study, who also co-sponsored a Burr amendment on alcohol wholesalers.

Among the amendments introduced but withdrawn were amendments on comprehensive traceability (Sen. Brown), antibiotic resistance (Sen. Reed), country of origin labeling for processed fish (Sen. Murkowski), country of origin labeling for processed food (Sen. Brown, Merkley), infant formula health claims (Sen. Merkley), restitution payments for farmers harmed economically by FDA mistakes (Sen. Hagan), and confidentiality of records provided to FDA (Sen. Roberts).  Some of these amendments may be revisited during floor consideration of the bill.

NSAC's press release issued immediately following markup can be viewed here <>.

/*Growing Safe Food Act*/* Picks Up Additional Sponsors*:  The NSAC-endorsed Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758), introduced by Senator Stabenow (D-MI), was co-sponsored last week by Senator Brown (D-OH) and Casey (D-PA).  The bill, which would establish a national food safety training and technical assistance competitive grants program to be housed at USDA, is also co-sponsored by Senators Bingaman, Boxer, Gillibrand, Leahy, Merkley, and Sanders.  NSAC is urging all Senators to endorse the bill and is pushing for its incorporation into S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, when it comes to the Senate floor.