Nov 30, 2010  |  Today's News

Proving Congress can indeed get something done during a lame duck session, today the U.S. Senate passed SB 910, commonly known as the Food Safety Bill, by a comfortable margin of 73-25. The bill must still pass conference committee where it will be reconciled with the House version. Key provisions of the legislation give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more broad authority than that agency has ever possessed.

Both Senator Durbin and newly seated Senator Kirk voted for the legislation.

The farm view of the legislation is much more polarized than the bi-partisan Senate vote would suggest. Locally grown food advocates, organic interests, and urban-farming supporters who initially demanded governmental action to crack down on what they deemed an unsafe industrial food supply became dismayed when they learned that the legislation would impact “their small farmers” as well. In these circles and in the social media world, the Senate Bill was lambasted by these supporters turned critics. They soon started speaking of the legislation as “The Farm Bill” instead of the “Food Safety Bill” with accusations of a government hatchet job on their interests.

Evidently in the minds of those folks, food safety issues don’t happen at the level of quote, “real food farming.”

These arguments did gain ground and a last minute amendment to the bill exempted farms with less than $500,000 in yearly sales that sell most of their produce locally.

Mainstream agriculture groups opposed this language, believing that exempting processors and producers based solely on size, location, and proximity to markets does not make food safer.  "What matters is that the operation implements prudent product safety practices, regardless of whether the product is purchased at a roadside stand, a farmers' market, or a large supermarket.  We support FDA food safety programs developed through a scientific, risk-based approach and that benefit public health."   

Michael Pollan, Food Inc player and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is a fan of the legislation and in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday, called the measure "the best opportunity in a generation to improve the safety of the American food supply."

The Senate Bill is estimated to cover about 80 percent of the food supply, including fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy products and processed foods that do not contain meat. FDA will have the authority to force recalls and significantly expand their inspections.

Nearly a fifth of the nation’s food supply and as much as three-quarters of its seafood are imported, but the F.D.A. inspects less than one pound in a million of such imported foods. The bill gives the F.D.A. more control over food imports, including increased inspection of foreign processing plants and the ability to set standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown abroad.