Small American farmers can breathe a sigh of relief. When they’re not bracing for the worst, that is.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, the much-awaited reform of the food safety legislation voted in 1938 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Each year, 325,000 Americans are unnecessarily sickened and hospitalized from consuming contaminated food; about 5,000 of them die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The House is expected to rubber-stamp the text with no delay after voting its own version of the bill over a year ago. The legislation is designed to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of the Human and Health Services Department, increased resources and authority to better control food producers, thus reducing the risks of food-borne illness outbreaks. The anticipated budget for its implementation is 1.4 billion dollars.
Passions about this piece of legislation have been running wild for months. Small farmers denounced the unfairness and crushing burden of one regulatory regime applied to family farms and industrial producers alike. After all, the latter bear the brunt of food-borne illness outbreaks due to the sheer size of their production volumes and supply chain. Meanwhile, the recent introduction of an amendment by Senators Jon Tester (in the picture) and Kay Hagan, designed to exempt small producers from the new regulation, unleashed a storm of anger and protests among the big guys of the American food industry.
The Tester-Hagan Amendment defines small farms and producers as operations with less than 500,000 dollars in annual sales, who sell more than 50% of their production directly to consumers. Their sales must be within 275 miles of their location, within state borders, and they must comply with state and local food laws. If contamination is traced to them, the exemption will be void.
In the end, both bill and amendment passed by 73 to 25. Local food and sustainable farming advocates like author Michael Pollan and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded the decision.