House passes food safety bill with grain farm exemption

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The House approved food safety legislation last week that will dramatically expand Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over all aspects of the food system, but largely exempts grain operations from overly broad records access and traceability standards. H.R. 2749 passed by a 283 to 142 vote on Thursday after failing to pass under suspension of the rules - which requires a two-thirds majority - just one day before.

The bill grants the FDA authority to oversee everything from food production and processing, to distribution and retail, and to ensure that imported food meets U.S. safety standards.

Many in the ag industry had been advocating for changes to the bill to ease the potential burden on grain farm operations, which pose extremely low risk to the health of the food system. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was instrumental in pressing his Democratic colleagues, specifically House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), to include language appropriate to individual agricultural production sectors, including grains.

The bill contained three improvements championed by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) such as grain exemption for the safety standard and on-farm records access issues as well as improvements to the traceability portion of the legislation, allowing farm record-keeping requirements to remain in line with current requirements under the Bioterrorism Act. 

Bill reaction
House Agriculture Committee ranking republican Frank Lucas said the bill is a "product of a flawed process" and "does little to accomplish goal of enhancing food safety" noting that the legislation did not require the FDA to spend one additional penny on the inspection of food.

The night before the bill came up for vote, no one had seen a copy of the bill."It is tragic that, despite a clear jurisdictional claim, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee did not demand the bill be referred, conduct hearings on its provisions, and work its will to make improvements. But, this is not a matter of jurisdiction between two committees. The real losers today are our farmers, ranchers, and consumers," said Ranking Member Frank Lucas.

Commodity producers wrote Peterson Thursday thanking him for his efforts, saying, "Though we recognize that there may be some outstanding issues remaining as the legislative process continues, we wish to recognize that your work, and that of your staff, was instrumental in easing our concerns and removing our objections to passage...•bCrLf the groups wrote.

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel said his organization is "largely supportive of the bill." Improvements recognized by United Fresh include ensuring that FDA would work with USDA, state departments of agriculture and other agencies in implementing all produce provisions; mandates traceability across all foods, assures equal treatment of imported and domestic produce in food safety standards and ensured tighter control of potential FDA geographic quarantine authority, requiring an imminent threat to take such action and coordination with USDA.

"While United is supportive of these improvements to H.R. 2749, there are still important issues that we will address with the Senate as it begins its work on food safety legislation later this year. We look forward to continued bipartisan support and industry cooperation to ensure passage of sound, scientific food safety legislation that can benefit all Americans," Stenzel said.

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