For over a year, the big Agribusiness trade organizations have supported passage of S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. From Agribusiness’s perspective, the bill was a win-win: they could absorb the costs of the regulations because of their size; they’d gain good PR for supposedly improving food safety practices; and the competition created by local food producers, which are rapidly growing, would be crushed by the regulatory burdens.
This was only speculation until now. But when the Senators agreed to include the Tester-Hagan amendment in the bill, to exempt small-scale direct-marketing producers from some of the most burdensome provisions, Agribusiness revealed its true colors. Twenty Agribusiness trade organizations fired off a letter stating that they would now oppose the bill.
The letter from the Agribusiness groups states: “[B]y incorporating the Tester amendment in the bill, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. In addition, it sets an unfortunate precedent for future action on food safety policy by Congress that science and risk based standards can be ignored.”
What science and risk? No one has produced any data or evidence of any widespread problems caused by local producers and marketed directly to consumers. All of the major foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by products that went through the long supply chains of Agribusinesss.
Agribusiness’s real concern about the Tester-Hagan amendment isn’t food safety, but the precedent set by having Congress recognize that small, direct-marketing producers are different, and should be regulated differently, from the large Agribusinesses.
Agribusiness is trying to convince the Senators to pull the Tester-Hagan amendment back out. While the amendment is currently part of the “Managers’ Package” – the amended version of the bill agreed upon by six bipartisan sponsors – nothing is certain until the actual vote.
This Thanksgiving week, please take a moment to call or email your Senators to tell them to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the bill. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or go to www.senate.gov to find their website (if the phone lines are busy, the best way to reach them is through the Contact page on their website).