Bad links in food chain

Food safety legislation is urgent, yet still imperfect.

If anything could give national food safety reform the momentum it needs, it would be the recall of half a billion unsafe eggs. Or so one might think.
Despite last month’s dramatic health scare, the U.S. Senate is threatening to stall further on this long-awaited legislation. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, would provide sweeping new federal authority in food safety. Both Minnesota senatorssupport the bill.
As is too often the case with federal farm policy, however, the bill legislates to the industrial giants of agriculture at the expense of small farming operations. An increase in federal inspections on the smallest farms would be an onerous, costly andunnecessary burden.
Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kay Hagan, D-NC, have co-sponsored an amendment to the current Senate bill that would provide clear, necessary exemptions for small and direct-market farms, which inherently pose less risk to public health.
They explain that “when produce is sold to large companies, it is commingled with produce from many farms and changes hands as it is distributed, transported, stored and marketed across long supply chains.” This means greater risk of broader contamination. In other words, the convoluted industrial food chain is itself a threat to food safety — and it will take federal policy to regulate it.  Yet there is no reason to cover the smallest farms in this reform.
Of course, Tester and Hagan wouldn’t have small farmers exempted from safety laws entirely; they would defer to state and local authorities.
 The legislation still needs work, but it also needs to be passed this year. Doubtless many important issues this session will take a back seat to election-season politicking; safe food should not be among them.