I am sure some of you are aware of the Food Safety Bill that has been floating around congress--a response to the food borne illness outbreaks as of late--spinach, tomatoes/peppers, peanut butter. I am sure you also realize the problem is generally not with small producers, but rather the big guys where traceability becomes more difficult. Unfortunately, some of the regulatory measures introduced in the bill would have a negative effect on the little guys like myself (for more on this issue click here to read interesting article).
Luckily, the sustainable ag community has been hard at work making sure any future food safety legislation makes sense for you the consumer without adversely affecting the farmer. We need your help pursuading our congressmen, some times our representatives do not understand that really the safest, healthiest food system is a vibrant local food system. Its time to act. Please read the letter below form Brian Snyder executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture:
From: Brian Snyder, Executive Director
I’m going to make this as succinct as possible, while also giving you enough background to understand what’s going on. In brief, the Food Safety bill in the House of Representatives (HR 2749) is expected to move as early as tomorrow (if no bumps in the road), but certainly by early next week. The goal of the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) is to move this bill under “suspension,” meaning with limited debate and no amendments, which requires a two-thirds vote, and to do so before the August recess starts in two weeks. Delay of healthcare legislation at this point means they will try to move forward on food safety first, aggressively and somewhat undercover of the healthcare debate.
PASA has been centrally involved in consulting with E&C on this legislation since March, along with our friends at MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.), NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) and others across the country. Last week, PASA farmer member Nick Maravell (Potomac, Maryland) testified in a hearing on the bill before the House Ag Committee and did an incredible job of raising the most important outstanding issues.
To date we have achieved some things we can be proud of, including exemption for direct marketers from most traceability requirements (including for sales to restaurants and grocery stores), and now including some clear language in the bill to define what on-farm processing activities might be exempt from FDA registration as well. Things are still in flux as I write, but we believe all such processing will be exempt as long as 50% or more of sales (including by Internet and mail order) are made directly to individuals (i.e. retail, as opposed to wholesale). And a huge gain just this week will likely be another exemption on sales of feedstuffs for livestock from one farmer to another, which had been included in the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 (thaaat’s right…) as an activity requiring registration. There have been other gains in specific wording of the bill, too detailed to enumerate in this email right now.
But we’re still disappointed that the fee being assessed to eligible businesses, including some on farms, will be the flat rate of $500 instead of our preferred sliding scale for smaller operations, including a minimum size below which no fee would be charged. We in fact would prefer to see a much higher fee paid by the largest food processing companies, from which most food safety issues seem to emanate in any case -- but that may not be achievable at this point. We also have other language we’d like to see in the bill that would focus attention on high risk aspects of food production, protect organic farmers from duplicative paperwork and expand the research agenda into more diversified systems. All of these concerns are contained in an amendment being sponsored by Representatives Farr, Kaptur and others that E&C must deal with if they expect to get their two-thirds vote to limit debate.
So, we’re asking ALL of you to take a little time out of your busy summer schedules to help advance the sustainable farming agenda with respect to food safety even more than what we’ve been able to on our own. Call your representatives, and maybe a few others, and express strong support for the exemptions now contained in HR 2749 for direct marketing, and ask them to support the Farr-Kaptur Amendment that would do even more to focus food safety efforts on the REAL problem areas. To be clear, they will need to insist that language of the amendment get into the bill before it is introduced on the floor. Also, let them know what you think of a system that would charge a small on-farm processing operation the same fee as facilities operated by the largest food companies in the world! Following are links where you can find contact info for members of the House of Representatives:
Find your Rep:
This has already been a long slog, and if this bill passes we’ll now have to begin working with the Senate, and then a likely Conference Committee, to make further improvements. As usual, we are greatly outnumbered and outsized ($$) by groups that would rather see sustainable farmers pay the price of food system sins that have originated elsewhere. But we’ve been here before, and prevailed. A few minutes of your time today or early tomorrow could make sure that common sense wins out again!
Thanks for your care and attention to this important matter.
Executive Director, PASA