Small farmer advocacy groups disagree over fallout of Food Safety Modernization Act

Small farmer advocacy groups disagree over what the Food Safety Modernization Act (SB 510), a measure that  would substantially increase the power and reach of the Food and Drug Administration, will mean for small farmers if passed by the Senate Tuesday.

SB 510 would allow the FDA to mandate that a company recall a food product it suspects is infected, which is something the agency hasn’t had the ability to do in the past. The bill also expands the FDA’s inspection powers, and would force food producers to comply with several new bureaucratic requirements, including opening their production facilities to more FDA inspections officers and following new in-depth inspection procedures.

On Monday night, senators voted to 69-26 in favor of a move for cloture on the bill, a way to circumvent the filibuster. The vote came on the heals the passage of the Tester-Hagan amendment, which provides exemptions and special provisions for farms that make less than $500,000 annually, meaning that such farms wouldn’t have to follow the same in-depth inspection requirements factory farms would. The amendment was proposed by Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan in response to several small farm lobbying groups that argued the original bill would unintentionally hit small farmers, family farmers and local farmers hard with “one-size-fits-all” regulations.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition policy director Ferd Hoefner told The Daily Caller that the Tester-Hagan amendment was key to his organization finally supporting the bill. NSAC is now in favor of SB 510, after having wavered on it for a long time. He said the Tester-Hagan amendment adds extra protections for small farms and for direct-to-consumer farmers, like those who farm for local farmers’ markets.

“They have a choice: they can either comply with state regulation or an FDA regulation that’s appropriate to their scale,” Hoefner said in a phone interview. “That will be new and different for most of them.”

In terms of giving the FDA recall mandate authority, something that has infuriated Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, Hoefner told TheDC he expects the FDA to only use recall power in emergencies.

“The government could mandate a recall [under the proposed bill],” Hoefner said. “Whether they would actually use that in its entirety remains to be seen. I think they would continue to do the same thing and ask for a voluntary recall as a first approach.”

Pete Kennedy, the president of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, another small farm advocacy group, is opposed to the bill in its entirety, even with the Tester-Hagan amendment attached.

“The Tester-Hagan amendment is an improvement on the bill, but I think it’s still fundamentally flawed,” Kennedy told TheDC. “I think over time the powers given by the bill could possibly whittle away at the protection provided by Tester-Hagan, they’ll have broad power, and unfortunately under their existing power, what we see right now they seem to have three particular targets, which are raw milk, raw cheese, and supplements.”