New West: Senate Passes Food Safety Overhaul With Tester’s Amendment Exempting Smaller Farmers

The Senate this morning passed food safety legislation that overhauls how both domestic and imported food is handled, adding new and stricter regulations. Because of an amendment introduced by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, however, smaller farmers will be exempt from many of the requirements.

The amendment, which New West wrote about on Nov. 18, was applauded by marquee names in the local food movement as well as by grassroots organizations and independent farmers and ranches. It has its critics, however. According to the Washington Post, both the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association withdrew their support of the bill based on the amendment, arguing no one should benefit from relaxed federal standards when it comes to food safety.

In a statement emailed to New West, Bryan Silbermann, president & CEO of the PMA, said his organization “supported the original Senate bill, but unfortunately, recent language added to that bill did not align with PMA’s fundamental position of risk- and science-based food safety efforts, resulting in our recent opposition. We stand firm that the entire produce industry must be committed to providing safe fruits and vegetables, no exceptions, because pathogens don’t discriminate based on company size, commodity or distance to market.

For his part, Tester called the vote “a huge victory for all family farmers, growers and food processors, but more importantly, it’s a win for anyone who consumes food….Now it’s time to get this bill across the finish line and get it signed into law.”

The House, which passed a stricter version of the bill last year, announced it would accept the Senate’s version in an effort to get the bill to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. The bill passed with rare bipartisan support, 73 to 25, and is being hailed as the most dramatic change to food-safety laws since the 1930s.

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