Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Senate Bill S510 Update

CT NOFA received questions from many of you about the U.S. Senate S510 Bill, also known as the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Well, it was passed yesterday by a vote of 73 to 25 with amendments to protect small farms!  It will now go to the House for considersation. 
Want to know more?
  • Also, here's a great summary from the NOFA Interstate Council's Policy Coordinator, Steve Gilman.
What happens next with S.510?
First a Recap:
After more than a year of negotiations, S.510, The Food Safety Modernization Act finally cleared the Senate on November 30th, in the final days of the lameduck session.
Since the time is so short before the end of this Congress – the House, who previously passed their own version of the bill (HR2749) in 2009 – either has to accept this Senate version or work to reconcile S.510 with their own version. At this point the process is still unclear on how this will proceed – but it looks like the Democratic leadership (who still hold the majority in this lame duck session) may opt to quickly bring it to the House floor for a vote to pass S.510 intact.   IF the S.510 version is indeed accepted, (it's not over until it's over) then it goes to the President who has said he'll sign it and it will become law.
Then comes Rule-Making:
Then there's a lengthy rule-making process where the legislative language in the bill is translated into on-the-ground FDA regulations. This process is also heavily scrutinized – with extensive lobbying from all sides. Although the intent of Congress is open to some interpretation – the rules can't stray too far from the specific empowering language. And the draft rule has to undergo a period of public comment before it is finalized.
What about Funding?
S.510 is an Authorization bill – meaning the legislation is authorized but there's no funding attached. By some estimates the cost of this legislation could amount to some $1.4 billion (that's with a B) a year for FDA to ramp up the personnel, etc. to implement the inspections of foreign imports and processors, along with everything else they're empowered to do.
The funding for what FDA actually receives in any given year will depend on the annual Appropriations process in the House. In this day of pay-as-you-go rules in Congress, any money appropriated for one initiative have to come out of another – although at this point tax cuts (with subsequent loss of income to the US Treasury) don't seem to enter into this equation.
The bottom line for small farmers is that in addition to the beneficial protective provisions, including Tester, that the farm coalitions managed to insert into S.510 is that FDA will not have many resources for farm scrutiny – and may have to rely on the S.510 amendment by Senator Stabenow (who is slated to become the new chair of the Senate
Ag Committee in 2011) to fund training and education for small farmers – a much better approach for achieving food safety in the small farm sector than their one-size-fits-all regulations, any day.

Steve Gilman
NOFA-IC Policy Coordinator

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