Deal on small-farms exemption helps food-safety bill's chances

Democrats and Republicans who worked together on food safety legislation have signed off on a compromise amendment protecting small farmers, making it more likely the bill could pass as early as this week.

The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), could be rolled into the food safety bill or could be voted up or down separately. Under the amendment, small producers - those selling most of their food directly to consumers, local restaurants and retailers within a 275-mile radius and earning $500,000 or less in annual sales - will continue to be regulated at the state and local level.

"This amendment is a critical change to the food safety legislation and will protect our small producers from excessive government red tape," Hagan said in a statement. "Senator Tester and I worked with our colleagues to ensure this amendment’s inclusion in the final food safety bill, and this protection will benefit small farmers across North Carolina."Changes to the amendment give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to withdraw an exemption from a farm or facility that has been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak. In addition, the distance from a facility or farm that is eligible to be a "qualified end-user" has been reduced from 400 miles to 275 miles, and language clarifying that farmers' market sales are "direct-to-consumer" for FDA’s purposes has been revised.

The bill cleared a major legislative hurdle on Wednesday when it passed cloture by a vote of 74-25. The legislation would require more frequent inspections at food-processing plants and would give the government more authority in food-recall cases.

The House passed its version of food-safety legislation in July 2009.

You can read the revised amendment here, and its summary here.

This post was updated at 12:25 p.m.