Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) Brought Back From the Dead, Passes Senate

You might be wondering if that headline isn't an accidental repost from weeks ago when the FSMA passed the Senate the first time. It isn't a mistake. Unless you're a real food legislation geek you probably don't know that when the legislation originally passed the Senate with much fanfare (the bill passed the House long ago with ease), it contained an unintentional poison pill. The Post reports:

But the day after the Senate vote, House leaders flagged a problem - the Senate version appeared to violate a constitutional provision that requires new taxes to originate in the House rather than the Senate.

The section in question would have imposed fees on importers, farmers and food processors whose food is recalled because of contamination. The mistake essentially nullified the Senate vote.

My key interest in the S. 510 has been how it would impact small farms like the ones that provide food for farmers' markets and CSAs. You can get more background on these concerns here, here and here

Ultimately there were protections built into the bill to protect small farms from undue regulatory burden inconsistent with the size of their operations. Below is a list of protections for local farms and small producers built into the S. 510. (List provided by by Steve Breaux at WashPIRG.)

  • On-farm processors who sell products only at farmers markets, roadside stands, and through community supported agriculture programs can operate as “retail food establishments” meaning they would only have to comply with normal good practices and the food safety laws of the State in which they operate.
  • Very small businesses would only be required to adopt a simplified food safety plan or document their compliance with State or local food safety law to be exempt from S. 510’s more stringent federal safety program.
  • Small businesses (up to $500,000 in food sales on average) could also adopt a simplified food safety plan or document compliance with State or local food safety laws and be treated like very small businesses, provided they sold the majority of their food directly to consumers, or to grocery stores and restaurants within a 275 mile radius.
  • Small farms (up to $500,000 in food sales on average) would only have to comply with State or local food safety standards as long as they were selling the majority of the food they harvested directly to consumers, or to grocery stores and restaurants within a 275 mile radius.
  • In addition to these provisions, S. 510 includes a provision that allows FDA to exempt on-farm processors from the bill’s requirements, provided the food they produce is low-risk.  Also small and very small businesses have extra time to comply with any requirements under S. 510.

With protections in place for small farmers, the bill appears to be a huge step forward in food safety and accountability. I am most excited about provisions in the bill that require that imported foods will be held to the same safety standards as domestically produced foods. This may be a major blow to the Dollar Store food economy. Click through to the rest of the post to see what S. 510 means for our food system.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will protect consumers by:

  • Granting FDA a specific statutory mandate to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Requiring food processors to identify where contamination may occur in the food production process, and then requiring them to take steps to prevent the contamination.
  • Establishing a statutory minimum frequency for FDA inspections of domestic food processing facilities.
  • Holding imported food to the same safety standards as food produced in the U.S.
  • Implementing science-based minimum standards for safe agricultural production of fresh fruits and vegetables that pose the highest risk.
  • Improving coordination across federal, state, and local governments and providing grants to build state and local capacity for foodborne illness detection, surveillance, testing, and response.
  • Providing FDA, for the first time, with mandatory recall authority.
  • Developing traceability requirements that strike the right balance between protecting public health and preventing any undue burden to small businesses.

List provided by by Steve Breaux at WashPIRG.