US: House OKs bill to tighten food growing, processing
Posted: July 31st, 2009 - 11:24am
Source: Des Moines Register
Washington, D.C. -- From the condiment aisle at the grocery store to produce tables at the local farmers market, foods would face tighter growing and processing standards under a bill that has cleared the House.
The legislation, approved 283-142 on Thursday, would require the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, to set growing and handling regulations for fruit and vegetable farms of all sizes, from multinational companies such as Dole Foods Co. to small-scale organic growers in Iowa who sell to nearby stores or markets.
The bill moves to the Senate, which has yet to start working on its version of the legislation.
"What we're looking at is the implementation of food safety program plans across the entire food industry instead of just for meat and poultry, juice and seafood," said Sam Beattie, an Iowa State University Extension specialist who advises processors and farms on food safety.
Small-scale farms and processors have complained that the regulations would unfairly penalize them for outbreaks that have linked to corporate operations.
"Local and small organic growers are going to wind up paying the price for this legislation," said Chris Blanchard, who sells about $300,000 a year in organically grown produce from his farm near Decorah.
But Beattie said the rules would make small farms and processors safer, too.
"We find some things that are pretty scary" on small farms, Beattie said, citing a grower who admitted washing her produce in pond water before taking it to the market. Farms also can contaminate crops if they don't compost manure adequately before using it as fertilizer or apply it at the wrong time, he said.
Food poisonings linked to farmers markets or locally produced foods would undermine consumer confidence, he said.
Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food poisoning, said a blog posting the bill should improve food safety.
"It is past time for every part of the food economy - regardless of size - to become part of the system, to share in the costs of the system, and to promote the safety of the system," he wrote.
"Americans are dying because the Food and Drug Administration does not have authority to protect them, and American producers and agriculture are being hurt," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the bill's author, who has been pushing food-safety change for more than 20 years. "This will fundamentally change the way in which we ensure the safety of our food supply."