Eleventh-hour changes providing regulatory relief to small farms and businesses were being crafted for the Senate’s Food Safety Modernization Act prior to its consideration by the full Senate.

Legislation to reform the financial markets may push Senate consideration of the food safety bill to late April, said Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president of public policy, Washington, D.C.,

“We’re still working through different things that are being considered or the manager’s amendment or changes to the bill that passed out of the health committee,” Guenther said April 15.

The needs of small farms, small processors and small wholesalers are all being factored into the bill, he said.

Beyond the manager’s amendment — which will be voted on first by the full Senate — Guenther said there may be three to five additional amendments that will be considered.

Guenther believes the bill will pass with bipartisan support.

“At the end of the day this will be a good bill,” he said. “I think the bill will both look at food safety and at the same time address some of the flexibility and needs for small businesses.”

Once the Senate food safety bill passes, it will have to be reconciled with the House version, Guenther said.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reported on its Web site that the Senate bill is considered a significant improvement compared to the House version passed last year.

Some food safety and produce industry leaders have expressed reservations about exemptions for small growers from food safety rules based on the reasoning that pathogens don’t discriminate based on the size of farms.

However, the coalition expressed satisfaction that the final version of the Senate food safety bill would include amendments friendly to small growers and processors.

Those amendments include:

  • A provision that gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to exempt farms engaged in low- or no-risk processing/co-mingling activities from new regulatory requirements or to modify particular regulatory requirements for such farming operations;

  • A measure to bar the FDA from requiring farms and other food facilities to hire consultants to write food safety plans or to identify, implement, certify or audit those plans;

  • Funding for USDA grants to help growers, processors and wholesalers implement food safety practices, with a priority on small growing operations; and

  • An amendment to strip the bill of any enforcement against animal encroachment on farms.

The coalition said the fate of an amendment focusing on traceability and record-keeping, proposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was still uncertain as of April 15.

“We remain very interested in maintaining or securing exemptions from traceback recordkeeping requirements for direct farmer-to-consumer or farmer-to-stores or restaurants sales as well as for farm identity preserved sales in general, and for limiting farmer recordkeeping to the point of first sale,” the group said.

Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., has proposed exempting food facilities with sales under $500,000 from preventive control plan requirements and from traceback and recordkeeping.

The coalition said amendments from Brown and Tester likely would not be part of the manager’s package and instead be offered and debated separately.