Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revise rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act in a way that enhances food safety and the continued strength of Vermont's agricultural sector.
Leahy said, "Strong food safety rules are essential to protecting consumers and ensuring the quality that has become synonymous with the "Vermont' brand, and that is why I supported the Food Safety Modernization Act. However, the implementation rules, as drafted, would place unacceptable burdens on small, diversified Vermont farms and stifle our burgeoning local food movement, while making only marginal gains in food safety. We can do better."
Sanders said, "Food safety is our priority and I support the FDA's focus on strong, consistent food safety rules to protect consumers. In our state of Vermont, the Food Safety Modernization Act must support the dynamic agricultural enterprises that are strengthening our economy."
Welch said, "We all agree that safe food production is vitally important for public health, the health of our food systems, and the integrity of our strong Vermont brand. But steps taken to protect our food supply should reflect best practices and an appreciation for the diversity of agriculture nationwide."
The 2011 Food Safety Modernization act, signed into law in 2011, broadened the authority of the FDA to regulate food production and allows the agency to order recalls of contaminated food. But the draft rules, as subsequently drawn by FDA to implement the law, have the serious potential to disrupt Vermont's small, local and diversified farmers and food hubs with large fees and expensive testing and booking requirements.
Last week the members of Vermont's congressional delegation wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, urging that the FDA rewrite the rules and allow for a second public comment period before issuing a final decision. The delegation members are concerned about the lack of clear authority between the State and the FDA in implementing the law. Moreover, the rules seem to negate hard-fought exemptions for small, diversified producers, like many Vermont farms.
Other concerns raised by the delegation include conflicts with the National Organic Program, the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, and water and soil health regulations.