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Small businesses support exemption from food safety bill

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 20-Apr-2010

A group of food and farming organizations has written to senators urging amendments to the Food Safety Modernization Act that would exempt smaller businesses from tracing and record-keeping requirements.

The 103 groups claim that local and state regulations are sufficient to monitor food safety for small food businesses, and they support an exemption from proposed new regulations for food processors with adjusted gross income of less than $500,000 a year, and for producers that sell more than half of their food directly to market.

Judith McGeary, one of the drafters of the letter and president of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance said: “Food safety is a priority for us all, but the requirements of the Senate bill will impose significant expenses and burdens on small farmers and food processors that could well put them out of business. That ultimately hurts food safety, by depriving consumers of the choice to buy local, healthy fresh foods.”

The proposed amendments to the bill were introduced by Senator Jon Tester last week in anticipation that it may soon be given a full hearing in the Senate. Specifically, they urge that smaller food producers and processors should not be required to keep the same detailed records as larger food manufacturers, and to limit traceback requirements.

“Let’s face it, dangerous food-borne outbreaks don’t start with family agriculture,” Tester said. “Food produced on that scale shouldn’t be subject to the same expensive federal regulations as some big factory that mass produces food for the entire country.”

The bill is currently awaiting a full Senate hearing after passing unanimously through committee in November, but it has been held up by debate on healthcare reform and jobs. If passed, the bill would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to order product recalls, increase the frequency of plant inspections, and require all facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to have risk-based preventive control plans in place to tackle to hazards and prevent adulteration. However, restaurants and most farms are already exempt from this rule. And a clause backed by the House that would have charged food firms $500 a year to help pay for increased inspections has been omitted in the Senate version.

The measures are designed to improve US food safety after the country was hit by a spate of foodborne illness outbreaks. The legislation was sparked by the salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America last year, in which nine people died and more than 700 fell ill.

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