Obama Signs Food Safety Act into Law: Small Farms Are Exempted from Some Provisions

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On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the $1.4 billion Food Safety and Modernization Act, the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food industry in 70 years.

The law will give the Food and Drug Administration sweeping new powers to order food recalls, increase inspections and recordkeeping, and institute new food safety protocols on farms.   The US Department of Agriculture would still oversee meat and poultry products.

Obama’s pen ended a legislative saga that included two trips to the senate, three visits to the house, filibuster threats, and multiple amendments, including the Tester amendment which exempts small farms, which sell less than half a million dollars of produce locally, from some requirements.  (See the December Almanac.) Small farms will still have to follow state food safety guidelines.

Judith Redmond, from Fully Belly Farms in California’s Capay Valley, says the law still doesn’t address the larger problems that have arisen from industry expectations for long shelf lives and worries about a chilling effect on sustainable agriculture. “FDA oversight of farms growing fruits and vegetables could require a significant new level of paperwork and administrative burden for farmers,” Redmond told the Almanac.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that about 3,000 people die and about one in six Americans get sick from food-borne illness each year.

Before the law takes effect, the FDA will first have to write the law’s rules and regulations and train inspectors. The law’s $1.4 billion cost in the first five years left many to wonder whether it might become yet another unfunded federal mandate if House Republicans who opposed the law make good on a threat to withhold its funding.

- Pia Hinckle


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