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Senate Food Safety Bill Amendments Proposed, Final Debate Delayed

Floor debate in the U.S. Senate and a final vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act has been further delayed so the Senate can instead focus on financial regulatory reform.

The bill had been slated for long-awaited floor debate next week, after having been delayed several times since leaving committee in mid-November 2009, by the health care reform debate and other issues.

The House version of the bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, was passed by the full House in June of 2009.

The purpose of the bill, which is expected to easily pass the Senate with bipartisan support, is:

To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.

But a number of sustainable agriculture groups are concerned with the potential impact of additional federal regulation on farmers and small-scale food producers.

Proposed Amendments

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded a package of proposed amendments this week that would be voted on as a package when the bill reaches the Senate floor (a procedure called a "manager's amendment").

Additional amendments proposed by Montana Senator John Tester seek to exempt food facilities with under $500,000 gross annual sales from two costly provisions in the Senate bill, one dealing with risk-based preventative controls and another dealing with traceability and record keeping.

Other organizations oppose federal exemptions for small producers. Sandra Eskin of The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the partners in the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, told Food Safety News that "Food should be safe regardless of its source," and argues for scale-appropriate regulation, but not exemptions.

Both sides of this particular debate are behind the majority of the bill, calling it a dramatic improvement over what we have now. Final wrangling over amendments is expected to continue until the bill is finally brought to the floor for debate by the full Senate, which could now be several weeks (or more, given that the Senate now has the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice and other issues to deal with).

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