San Francisco Chronicle: Senate set to vote on rigorous food safety bill

The Senate is set to vote Monday night on the biggest changes to food safety laws in 70 years, handing vast new authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate farms and food processors.

Controversy continues to dog the legislation, which is aimed at reducing bacterial contamination in spinach, peppers, peanut butter and a raft of foods plagued in recent years by salmonella and e. coli outbreaks. It would impose rigorous new safety protocols and stronger FDA oversight, particularly over fresh produce.

The Food Safety Modernization Act has fueled a ferocious two-year battle that has pitted the small-farm, locavore food movement against large growers and food safety interest groups.

Small farmers say they are not to blame for mass food poisoning outbreaks and that safety protocols designed for industrial agriculture will put them out of business. Large growers contend that bacteria do not discriminate by farm size; they insist everyone must follow sanitation rules.

An amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would exempt small farms and processors from federal oversight, leaving them under state and local food safety regulation. Tester, a wheat farmer interviewed by phone from Montana, said small operations “are raising food, they’re not raising a commodity.”

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