Federal food bill heads to President’s desk

VERMONT — In an action that surprised many observers, the U.S. Senate on Sunday passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
The bill, which had appeared dead after it encountered a number of technical issues close to the end of this year’s congressional session, passed the Senate unanimously by voice vote late on Sunday. From there, the bill headed to the U.S. House, where it was approved on Tuesday and sent to the President’s desk.
The bill commissions the largest overhaul of food safety standards in 70 years, in an attempt to address issues such as the salmonella scare in August that ultimately resulted in the recall of one billion eggs. With the overhaul, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will have the power to institute recalls.
According to the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the FDA has nine months from the bill’s enactment to present the new rules to the public, after which the document will enter a comment period.
Attached to the bill were a number of amendments designed to protect small farmers, including one authored by Sanders that had generated debate.
The Sanders provision and another such attachment, the Tester-Hagan amendment, both attempt to exempt small farmers and processors from the new regulations that the bill mandates. Instead, smaller producers will continue to fall under current state and local regulation.
Without the Tester-Hagan amendment, said Clark Hinsdale, a Charlotte dairy farmer and president of the Vermont Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau did not support the bill.
“It’s a big corporation bill,” he said.
The bill’s amendments institute various levels of enforcement and regulation that mean small farmers will not have to adhere to standards that might be too costly to follow.
“You can’t hold a 200-acre orchard to the same standards as a 9,500-acre apple farm in Oregon,” said Andrea Ochs, another Vermont Farm Bureau official, who with her husband runs Crescent Orchards in Orwell.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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