Federal lawmakers pulled a food safety bill off their menu Thursday, but not before signing off on a compromise amendment to protect small producers.
The amendment sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., makes exceptions for small producers selling their food to local restaurants, grocers or directly to consumers. It will either be rolled into the Food Safety and Modernization Act or voted on, up or down, separately.
A vote expected Thursday on the main bill was delayed for at least a day. The Food Safety and Modernization Act would require more food safety inspections at processing plants and give the Food and Drug Administration the power of mandatory recall in cases of food contamination. Tester said his amendment was needed to keep small producers in business.
“If we can get more locally grown food, if we can get producers to connect up with consumers eyeball to eyeball, that's a positive thing and I don't want to diminish that,” Tester said in morning Senate proceedings.
Initially, Tester asked for a straight exemption for food producers earning less than $500,000 a year and either selling in-state or within 400 miles of their operation when doing business across state lines.
Small food producers say they're already regulated by state and local governments and don't pose the threat of a massive outbreak that large food companies do.
Groups like the Northern Plains Resource Council turned to Tester to amend the the food safety legislation for small processors. But other food safety advocates balked at making exceptions.
The new compromise amendment trims the miles to 275 and allows the FDA to revoke the exemption for any facility or farm associated with a foodborne illness.
Contact Tom Lutey at
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