Food safety bill raises local concerns

FRESNO, California

Senator Tom Harkin is one of the co-sponsors of the Food Safety Modernization Act. He argued for its passage on the Senate floor Monday night. "We've got to get in front of this. Not just to sort of catch the food once it's contaminated when it's done, but to try to prevent it in the beginning." Harkin told a nearly empty Senate Chamber.

Most big agricultural organizations and the food industry have endorsed the legislation which creates a framework for scientific evaluation of crop safety measures. But there are troubling exemptions.

Harkins said, "Produce standards shall not apply to individuals who grow food for personal consumption. There's also an exemption for small farms and small facilities especially roadside farms, farmers markets and things like that."

But the portion of the bill to protect small farms and farmers markets may be misleading. Small means any farm selling less than half a million dollars a year in produce. And, it exempts farms selling within 275 miles of their operations. Tom Valadez of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League says all food sold, from a big operation or small should meet the same safety standards. "To base an exemption on your annual sales, or to base an exemption on origination of food, and whether where that food originated is in the same state as where someone consumed it, or a restaurant sold it, that fly's in the face of science."

The small farm provision is part of an amendment that could be cut. There are also other additions to the legislation that have nothing to do with food safety. But a measure of some sort is expected to be passed this week.

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