Food Safety Bill to Proceed with Contentious Tester Amendment

November 19, 2010

Who would be exempt from the new standards?

The U.S. Senate invoked cloture for the long-awaited Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) on November 17, which will give way to a full vote once debates are over.

The problem with the movement of S. 510-a bill that would finally give FDA added resources and the authority to recall tainted foods-is the inclusion of a Tester amendment in the final bill.

Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) amendment is an initiative to protect small local producers from being overburdened with the upkeep of new reporting and product tracking that would be required of larger producers with this bill’s passage. Specifically, the Tester amendment would exempt producers with revenues under $500,000 and which sell directly to consumers or retailers within a local range of 275 miles.

Trade associations representing large-scale producers have taken issue with the Tester amendment.

“Unfortunately, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions if the amendment is passed,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association (Washington, DC). “An effective food safety program in the United States is a shared responsibility and each of us has to do our part whether we are a producer, processor, retailer, foodservice provider or a consumer.”

The other side of the issue was offered by food writer Michael Pollan in an interview with the New York Times’ Ezra Klein, published on November 18.

If there is a problem with a small producer, the FDA then gets authority over them [and] they lose their exemption,” said Pollan. “But look, there can be a food safety problem at your house or at a church supper or on a small farm. But the scope can be contained. It won't affect hundreds of thousands of people in 50 states, as is true with larger producers…But there is some risk in eating and always will be. If we were to choke off the renaissance of small farms and local food, we'd be losing one of our alternatives to a highly industrialized system that has special risks of its own.”

Stay informed on the progress of the Food Safety Modernization Act at NutritionalOutlook.com.