WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 – At a time when 76-million Americans are sickened by food-borne illnesses each year, the Senate today voted 73 to 25 for legislation to strengthen food safety.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded to concerns by small farmers in Vermont, where there has been a significant increase in sustainable vegetable farms, and added a provision exempting small, low-risk, on-farm food processors from the new regulations aimed at large agribusinesses.
“While this legislation gives the FDA new tools to protect American families from contaminated foods, we avoided placing unnecessary requirements on small farms in Vermont and elsewhere,” said Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee. “We struck the right balance between the viability of small family farms that process foods and the safety of the nation’s food supply.”
Sanders’ provision applies to farms that process their own products or combine products from several farms. It gives the FDA authority to either exempt farms engaged in low-risk processing from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations. Existing FDA regulations already exempt farms that market a majority of products directly to consumers. Family-scale producers would, however, continue to be overseen by local and state food safety and health agencies.
Sanders also supported a provision written by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) under which food producers who sell more than half of their goods directly to consumers and have less than $500,000 in annual sales would not be subject to the new requirements designed for industrial-scale food producers.
The legislation would require companies to institute an aggressive safety testing regimen, maintain clear records, and have an emergency plan in place. The measure also would require imported food to be subject to the same standards as food grown or made in the United States. It would increase the number of FDA inspectors while allowing the agency to initiate mandatory recalls and suspend a facility’s operations.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, the most significant expansion of food safety laws in seven decades, now returns to the House for a final vote.