Over 125 national, state, and grassroots organizations are notifying members of the United States Senate that an amendment proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (MT) and Sen. Kay Hagan (NC), is critical to ensuring that the food safety bill being considered by the Senate does not injure the livelihoods of family-scale farmers and undercut consumers’ opportunity to find fresh, local farm produce and locally artisan food products, like jams and jellies. Organic and locally marketed food are the fastest growing segments in the industry.
“Consumers are voting in rapidly increasing numbers to opt-out of the industrial food system by patronizing farmers markets, CSAs, food cooperatives and other portals for local, sustainable and organic food in their communities,” said Mark A. Kastel, senior farm policy analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute.
“Food safety is a priority we all share, but one size does not fit all when it comes to imposing federal regulations on small local food businesses, including farmers market vendors,” said Gus Wahner, a vegetable farmer in Eastern Washington and spokesperson for the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a grassroots community organization in 7 western states. “In an effort to reform problems in the long industrial food supply chain, Congress threatens to wipe out thousands of small producers and businesses that are emerging as vibrant economic engines in rural communities and inner cities.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, is expected to be debated and voted on by the Senate when Congress re-convenes for the lame duck session.
“The current version of S. 510 will impose extensive new federal rules on small businesses that are already effectively regulated by state and local standards,” said Judith McGeary, a farmer and founder of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance based in Texas. “Because many small, local businesses cannot absorb the costs associated with another layer of regulation, S. 510 threatens to deny consumers the opportunity to buy fresh, healthy local products.”
The letter to U.S. Senators, which is now signed by 122 consumer, farm and ranch groups, farmers markets, and cooperative markets, points out that the bill will unnecessarily burden and handicap small-scale, local food producers. It notes that the “well-publicized incidents of contamination in recent years – including the recent egg recall – occurred in industrialized food supply chains that span national and even international boundaries. The food safety problems in this system can and should be addressed without harming the local food systems that provide an alternative for consumers,” the letter states, urging Senators to support the Tester-Hagan Amendment.
The amendment applies a multi-prong test to limit applicability of complicated new federal rules. For small processors the screens include geography, scale and the demonstration of local or state food safety oversight. In the case of fresh produce, when small farms market directly to end users within a limited geographic range, they will not be subject to federal farming regulations.