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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tester-Hagens Amendment to S.510

This call for action concerning state-controlled food safety regulations, is written by our own Rebecca Landis.

I have copy and pasted it here to help spread the word in order to drum up all the support we can muster to call our senators to take favorable action on this bill, and then some!

In the first person, these are Rebecca's own words: "I participated in a conference call yesterday with the organizations working to modify the federal food safety bill so that it is not such a burden on small farms and food processors. Sharon Thornberry, my co-chair on Issues and Advocacy, asked that I post a summary to this list so you’ll be ready to call your U.S. Senators next week. I’ll try to remind you on Sunday.

I know this is all both confusing and tedious, but it’s really important. Even people in Congress who say they support small farms and local agriculture are likely to vote the wrong way on this issue if they don’t get the message loud and clear that the Tester-Hagen amendments really matter to us.

Some in Congress think they have “fixed” the smaller folks’ problems with some nice words about making the FDA consider how to make things easier for small farms and processors. I don’t think the FDA would have the foggiest idea how to do that. Most small farms and processors now are regulated only by the state and not the FDA. Those that have found themselves under FDA jurisdiction have been treated poorly.

So the election is over, and the “lame duck” Congress is back in Washington DC is starting Monday Nov. 15. The best guess is that there will be what is called a cloture vote on Nov. 17 or 18. One Oklahoma senator, unless he has changed his mind recently, would block the bill from hitting the floor by the “unanimous consent” pathway. The cloture vote usually takes 60 get it moving. Whichever way it gets there, we want the Tester-Hagen amendment to be voted into the bill – and not messed with thereafter.

Tester-Hagen has opposition from United Fresh and from something called AMI that sounds like big ag and livestock. But most of our concern is focused on the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, which came out with lengthy and bad arguments against our amendments. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has rebutted these arguments in detail. I'm worried this group’s efforts will give our two senators an excuse to either not vote for our amendment or to go along with watering it down.

MOFS is looking for a senator to sponsor a secondary amendment, if we do get Tester-Hagen in, they will probably try to have it say that in case of an outbreak FDA could wipe out any exemptions that jeopardize the health of vulnerable populations. It's a victim-focused approach – each life matters so everyone must be made subject to the FDA. We can’t say lives don’t matter, but we can counter by saying: 1) we are not eliminating existing state and local regulation; 2) it's not likely that the FDA’s regulation will be the best mechanism to prevent outbreaks on small farms.

This MOFS coalition feels everything should be solely about whether the foods are high or low risk and not at all about how or by whom they are grown – even though small farms are not causing all the recalls and food scandals. An example would be spinach picked by hand on small farms by humans who can see if it has animal feces on it vs. 1,000+ acres of spinach picked by combine-like machines and going into huge processing plants commingled with many farms' spinach such that it take weeks or months to trace anything. So under this MOFS approach, once spinach is implicated, even if it's at a huge spinach operation, suddenly small farms are thrown in with larger farms under whatever approach FDA decides to take.

Our Sen. Jeff Merkley is a particular target, and I think Sen. Ron Wyden will be leaned on also. We need to have our voices heard too.

*****So on Nov. 15 or 16 (Monday or Tuesday), you should call both Oregon senators and those in any other state where you might have some sway.*****

PLEASE tell them you want Tester-Hagen amendment, and you do NOT want them modified by the Make Our Food Safe coalition’s proposals. Point out that Tester-Hagen does not exempt anyone from state and local regulation, and that adding another layer of government (the FDA) won’t improve the safety of small farms and processors, who are already doing a much better job than the larger food system."

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