Senate Passes New Food Safety Bill

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Gridlock may be the prevailing theme on Capitol Hill, but Senator Lisa Murkowski and 14 other Republicans joined with Democrats – including Senator Mark Begich – to pass a bipartisan Food Safety Bill Tuesday morning.  It’s the biggest change in the laws governing food production in 70 years.

It requires more inspections of food manufacturers and processing plants, sets new standards for imported food, and gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to recall contaminated food – right now the FDA can only ask companies to voluntarily do so.

Consumer groups support the bill, as do large food growers.  Small local farmers have had concerns that it would be too burdensome for them, but a Democratic amendment exempts small farmers who sell locally and make less than a half-million dollars.  Alaska Senator Mark Begich says the “small farmer’s amendment” pushed by Montana Senator Jon Tester alleviated his concerns, so he signed on as a co-sponsor.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says there are Alaska-oriented amendments she inserted during the committee process.  One calls for the FDA to do a study on the transportation of food in rural and frontier areas, and another directs the FDA to update the Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Control Guidance, which helps seafood processors develop their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.  It was last updated nine years ago.

The House has already passed similar Food Safety legislation, but now the Senate language goes back to the House for final approval.

River Bean is the owner of Arctic Organics in the Mat-Su Valley. He says he was relieved there was an exemption for small farmers since the scares over food contamination and recalls all stemmed from large corporate farms and the processors not small growers.

Bean says he’s hopeful the law will help the FDA better supervise large agricultural businesses.

Bean says he’d like to say small family farms are making a resurgence but he says it’s still very difficult for small farmers to compete with corporate growers.

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