The House took a new approach to passing the long-stalled farm bill on Thursday: it passed a version that included farm programs, but left off the nutrition section, which represents 80 percent of the bill’s price tag.
While much of the focus in Washington is on the political implications of splitting the farm bill into two, food safety advocates are concerned because the version that cleared the House could further delay implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
A little-known provision in the bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) that was added to the farm bill last month would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct a “scientific and economic analysis” of FSMA regulations before they can move forward, a requirement that could further delay regulations that are severely behind the deadlines set by Congress.
Benishek, who has tree fruit farmers in his Northern Michigan district, says he wants to make sure FDA is getting the rules right so it doesn’t hinder farmers. Apple, cherry, and other tree fruit growers have been among the most outspoken critics of proposed FSMA regulations for produce safety. The groups are particularly upset about new water testing requirements they view as onerous and unnecessary.
Sandra Eskin, director of the food safety campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts, thinks Benishek’s amendment could “significantly delay” the rules FDA is working on.
“What this provision does is totally undermine the process we have for regulations in this country,” said Eskin, noting that FDA has published regulatory impact reports that include analysis on the costs and benefits of each proposed rule.
The bill specifically says FDA may not enforce any of the FSMA regulations until the analyses are published to the federal register, but some in the produce industry think that the requirement might not stall the rules if it becomes law because FDA is already focusing on the science and considering the economic impact.