Washington, D.C.—After much back and forth, a group of senators representing both sides of the aisle finalized revisions to the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives. The hope is that the Senate will put this bill on its agenda later this year.

CeladrinThe Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), had been working on the bill’s “manager’s package.” One of the primary pieces of the package that legislators want to materialize is giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to issue a food recall (rather just requesting one) and increasing how often inspectors would visit food manufacturers. User fees would help pay for these inspections. The agency will also have the power to exempt low-risk farms from certain regulatory requirements.

Another plus in some eyes is less paperwork required for farmers and more flexibility for small farms to comply with regulations. In addition, grants will pay for food safety training for farmers, small processors and wholesalers.
“We have a strong, bipartisan proposal that will overhaul our current food safety system—a system that right now fails far too many American consumers,” Harkin stated. “I am confident that the remaining details will be worked out and am hopeful that the measure will come to the Senate floor as soon as possible.”

There were some notable omissions, too. Still under negotiation is the movement to exempt food facilities that have small annual gross sales from preventative control plan requirements and farmers who mostly sell product directly to consumers, stores or restaurants from the bill’s produce standards regulations.  States the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, “Our expectation is this amendment will be successfully negotiated over the coming weeks and will be accepted as part of the final bill once the bill reaches the Senate floor.”

Also removed from the bill is the requirement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to coordinate on organic farming.

And despite the efforts of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the legislation does not ban bisphenol A (BPA) for baby products. This issue is still pending.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2010 (published ahead of print on August 28, 2010)