(UPDATED COVERAGE, 4:15 p.m.) House passage of a food safety bill is “bittersweet,” according to a top official at the United Fresh Produce Association. Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers officials also characterized passage as a mixed bag.
The Senate version of the Food Safety Modernization Act was approved on a 212-206 vote in the House Dec. 8. The Senate must now reapprove it after first approving it, by a 73-25 vote, Nov. 30.
President Barack Obama has said he will sign the bill into law. Congress adjourns for the holidays Dec. 17.
In a statement, Robert Guenther, Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh’s senior vice president of public policy, praised some features of the bill but strongly criticized a provision, known as the Tester amendment, which exempts some small producers and processors from new food safety standards.
“The statutory enactment of nonscience-based exemptions would limit FDA’s ability to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have met the same food safety standards,” Guenther said. “Food safety must be a universal commitment.”
Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for Newark, Del.-based PMA, said many small growers don’t want the exemptions because they’re worried they will be bad for business. PMA will do what it can, she said, to convince others of that possibility.
“We don’t want our smaller members shut out of the market,” she said.
Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers also criticized the bill because of the Tester amendment.
“It’s unacceptable to us and not good public policy,” said Jim Bryan, the association’s policy liaison for federal government affairs.
The bill, which was attached to a larger federal spending bill, may not have passed the House on its own, Bryan said.
Guenther, Means and other industry officials had urged House leaders to seek a conference committee with the Senate to remove the Tester amendment and resolve procedural problems with the bill.
Guenther said United Fresh will continue to press Congress for universal standards.
Guenther praised several provisions of the bill, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when deemed necessary by risk-based, scientific Food and Drug Administration analysis.
Means said she was pleased with the recall authority the bill gives the FDA, and with the bill’s commodity-specific approach to food safety.
“We wouldn’t want people to think we’re unhappy it passed,” Means said. “There’s a lot in it that’s going to move food safety forward. The only thing we opposed were the exemptions related to the Tester amendment.”