A new food safety bill is making its way through congress. The legislation would give the federal government more control over the food supply, and is designed to prevent outbreaks of food-born illnesses.
Some of the loudest opposition to the bill is coming from small farmers locavores–people who attempt to eat foods grown nearby and preferably sold directly from the farmer. They fear that the new regulations would make it too hard for small growers who rely on direct-to-customer sales. There is a compromise in the works, but it’s controversial. And even if the bill does pass the Senate, it’s unclear it will become law. It would have to be reconciled with House legislation during the lame duck session or else face challenges from the more conservative incoming congress.
“It’s going to put a nail in the coffin of our family food producers,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is planning an amendment to exempt some small farms who market food close to their operations. He says many small farms already comply with state and local regulations to keep food safe.
Food safety advocates are lobbying against the Tester amendment, saying his concerns are overblown and efforts to broadly exempt smaller farms could be misguided. They argue that the legislation, which would give the FDA more authority to recall tainted products, increase inspections of food processors and require producers to follow stricter standards for keeping food safe, is crucial in the wake of outbreaks of contaminated peanuts, eggs and produce that have sickened hundreds.
“Our view is that food should be safe no matter what the source is,” said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Health Group.
Olson and other advocates say that while small farms may not need to follow as many regulations as large corporations, the size of the farm is not as important as the safety of the food. Producers of leafy greens, tomatoes and other foods that more frequently cause illness should have to follow strict standards to keep contamination away from food no matter what the size of their operation, they say.