Good News on Food Safety Bill

Senator Jon Tester has reached an agreement with the authors of S. 510 to include a compromise version of the Tester-Hagan amendment in the Senate food safety bill.

This is a true grassroots victory, and would not have been possible without your support! Thank you to everyone who called their Senators, both during this week and the preceding months.

The compromise amendment will exempt producers who gross less than half a million dollars and who sell more than half their products directly to consumers or “qualified end users” from the HARCP/ HACCP requirements and the produce safety standards. “Qualified end users” include restaurants and retailers who are either in-state or within 275 miles of the producer, and who purchase the food to sell directly to consumers.

The compromise version of the amendment allows FDA to withdraw the exemption if a farm or facility is “directly linked” to a foodborne illness disease outbreak or if it is “necessary” to “prevent or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak based on conduct or conditions” at the facility or farm.

The amendment includes other important provisions:

● It specifies that “retail food establishments” – which are exempt from the existing requirements to register with FDA and from the new HACCP/ HARCP requirements — includes businesses that sell directly to consumers through CSAs, farmers markets and roadside stands.

● It requires FDA to conduct a study that looks at the incidence of foodborne illness in relation to the size and type of the facility, as well as the risks associated with commingling, processing, transporting, and storing food, “including differences in risk based on the scale and duration of such activities.” In other words, for the first time, FDA will have to collect and evaluate data on how different management practices affect the risk of foodborne illness.

● It requires FDA to consider that data in defining “very small businesses”, which will also be exempt from the HACCP/ HARCP requirements

While the inclusion of this amendment in the bill is very good news, it is not the end of the process. If the bill ultimately passes, we will have to be involved in the rulemaking process to address the issues facing medium-scale producers and those who do not sell directly. We will also have to be prepared to speak up and oppose any FDA abuse of its powers.

The bill itself has yet to pass the Senate, and it then must be reconciled with the House version. We will continue to keep you updated on the bill’s progress.