Food Bill gets Second Wind
By Consumers Union on Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
A 280-150 vote in favor of the legislation was just short of the two-thirds majority that was required under a fast-track procedure. The House will vote again Thursday under rules requiring a simple majority for approval, according to a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A leading architect of the legislation, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said it would “stop Americans from being killed by bad food.”
The legislation stems from a series of nationwide outbreaks and recalls linked to spinach, peanut butter and other products regulated by the FDA, which oversees 80 percent of the food supply, most all products other than meat and poultry, which fall under the USDA.
Some Organic Farmers have raised concerns and stalled the bill but we think they are unfounded in their stalling of a bill that will literally save lives. See our counter arguements below:
The complaints of certain sustainable and organics groups are unfounded. Great pains have been taken by members on both sides of the aisle, and on several House Committees, to address concerns that have been raised about this legislation. Below, we address some of the allegations made by opponents of the bill, and the changes that have been made to the FSEA before or since the unanimous voice vote approval of the bill by the Energy and Commerce Committee on June 17, 2009:
1) Allegation: $500 registration fee for food facility burdens small and sustainable farmers.
Facts: The registration fee was originally $2,000, but was halved, and then halved again to $500, during deliberations. Since then, the bill has been further revised to include additional exemptions to the fee requirement. H.R. 2749 specifically exempts certain entities from the $500 registration fee. These exemptions include: private residences; retail food establishments; retail food establishments that process and sell directly to consumers, provided at least 51% of their sales is direct to consumer sales; and farms that include direct to consumer sales of processed items provide at least 51% of their sales is direct to consumer sales. The FDA that has argued that having a sliding scale would be difficult to administer even though some of us in the coalition support that concept.
2) Allegation: Tracing requirements onerous for farmers who sell their products primarily into the wholesale market.
Facts: H.R. 2749 does not require an electronic tracing requirement for farmers. Rather the bill takes a slow, very deliberate approach in its traceability provision. It requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct extensive information gathering, hold public meetings, and develop pilot projects before implementing a traceability system. FDA is required to take into account the impact on farmers and coordinate with the Secretary of Agriculture in developing regulations. In addition, FDA may specifically exempt a food, farm or facility from or modify the requirements for a traceability system if the agency determines that a tracing system is unnecessary for such a food, farm of facility.
3) Allegation: FSEA contains language that can harm wildlife and biodiversity, while failing to specify the positive role that conservation practices can play to address food safety concerns.
Facts: In setting safety standards for raw agricultural commodities like fresh produce, FDA must determine that they are necessary to prevent serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals. Moreover, the bill specifically requires the agency to take into consideration “the impact of small-scale and diversified farms, and on wildlife habitat, conservation practices, [and] water-shed protection efforts.” Recent articles on harm to wildlife and biodiversity caused by food safety regulations were the result not of government regulations but private contractual agreements that companies have set up in the absence of adequate federal regulations to assure safety. FDA regulation would be done only after an open transparent process and required to consider impact on organic and small farms.
4) Allegation: FSEA fails to provide specific guidance to ensure that new food safety standards are harmonized with the National Organic Program with respect to organic farming.
Facts: In addition to the factors listed above, the FSEA requires the agency to take into consideration “organic production methods” in developing safety standards for raw agricultural commodities.
But food safety reform is not just about statistics. It is about real families who have suffered the loss of a loved one, many of whom have made the painful journey to Washington, D.C. to testify in support of food safety reform.
The longer we wait for food safety reform at FDA, the more families will have to make the trip to Washington to ask for change.
Our food safety system has been in need of an overhaul for decades. The time for that reform is now. Centers for Disease Control statistics demonstrate that someone dies from foodborne illness every two hours, and children and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Do not let special interests of any kind delay this reform further. Vote “yes” on H.R. 2749 today, on the suspension calendar.