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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Thanks Phil Brasher for explaining the unexplainable in the Senate on Food Safety

Brasher.jpgI stole the below from Phil Brasher, as he has given the best explanation of the unexplainable.

The Senate has put off finishing work on an overhaul of federal food-safety regulations until after the Thanksgiving holidays. However, Senate Democratic leaders have announced a deal on the amendments they’re considered. They will include a ban on spending earmarks sought by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Corburn also has a substitute bill “to modernize Federal food safety efforts without placing unnecessary burdens on food producers, increasing food prices, or saddling taxpayers with additional debt.” Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., is planning another run at killing a tax reporting provision that was used to pay for the overhaul of the health-care system.

Remember that whatever the Senate passes still must be merged with a House-passed bill or else the House will have to approve the Senate bill as is.

Here’s the agreement on how to proceed on the bill in the Senate: (The Harkin amendment is the bill language that’s being substituting for what came out of the Senate health committee a year ago. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., is the chairman of that committee and the manager of the bill.)

On Monday, November 29, 2010, at 6:30pm, the Senate will proceed to a roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the Harkin amendment in the nature of a substitute (#4713).

Following disposition of the motions, the Harkin substitute amendment (#4715, as amended, if amended), will be agreed to, the cloture motion on the underlying bill will be withdrawn, and the Senate will proceed to vote on final passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510, as amended).

If any motion to suspend is successful, the Senate will immediately proceed to vote on the amendment. No further motions or amendments are in order.

  • Coburn motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Coburn amendment in the nature of a substitute, to modernize Federal food safety efforts without placing unnecessary burdens on food producers, increasing food prices, or saddling taxpayers with additional debt. (#4696)
  • If cloture is invoked, all post-cloture debate time will be yielded back, with the exception of debate as set forth below.

There will be up to 60 minutes of debate on the following motions, with the time equally divided and controlled between Senators Baucus and Johanns:

  • Johanns motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Johanns amendment to repeal the expansion of information reporting requirements for payments of $600 or more to corporations, and for other purposes. (#4702)
  • Baucus motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Baucus amendment in the nature of a substitute. (#4713)

There will be a total of four hours for debate with respect to the following motions with the time equally divided and controlled between Senators Coburn and Inouye, or their designees:

  • Coburn motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Coburn amendment in the nature of a substitute, to modernize Federal food safety efforts without placing unnecessary burdens on food producers, increasing food prices, or saddling taxpayers with additional debt. (#4696)
  • Coburn motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Coburn-McCaskill amendment to establish an earmark moratorium for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013. (#4697)

Upon the use or yielding back of time specified in this agreement, the Senate will proceed to vote with respect to the motions to suspend in the order listed:

  • Johanns motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Johanns amendment to repeal the expansion of information reporting requirements for payments of $600 or more to corporations, and for other purposes. (#4702)
  • Baucus motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Baucus amendment in the nature of a substitute. (#4713)
  • Coburn motion to suspend Rule XXII for the purpose of proposing and considering Coburn-McCaskill amendment to establish an earmark moratorium for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013. (#4697)
  • Robert

    The lack of attention in this entire discussion on food safety as it relates to “excellence” in food production is astounding. We say that we have the safest food system in the work, but what does that mean? That we are on the top of a mediocre worldwide heap? Come-on, that is not excellence! This is not treating consumers with respect.

    I wanted to weigh in on this discussion from a couple of different perspectives. I am a farm food safety coach. I’ve been on over 200 farms – from a farm-in-a-2-car-garage to farms with hundreds of acres, and all sizes in between. I’ve worked with farmers of many ethnicities and have used translators to speak to some because they don’t speak English well. So, I’ve seen a lot of production variation and much of it unsafe or not following state and federal regulations (and not getting busted for it. Just because there are laws and regulations, doesn’t mean they are enforced). Thus, I’ve seen more than most people in this debate (including those in Congress). Let me start out by asking – do the growers of our food HAVE TO take any mandated training to get into this worthy, but loaded-with-responsibility profession? No. But, in my state, a cosmetologist (I looked it up, they do nail and skin treatments) HAS TO take 1800 classroom hours and 3600 apprenticeship hours, and take a licensing exam, to start a new job in cosmetology. Similarly, a barber HAS TO have 1500 hours of training and then take a state-administered test. Again, a hairdresser: 1250 classroom hours, 2500 apprenticeship hours and a test. Does a food grower have to go through such rigorous training (where GAPs should be taught)? No! (unless, they are using Restricted Use Pesticides and many, many large and small farms do not). Similarly, we HAVE TO get our cars inspected annually for “safety” – but, do our produce farms? No! In fact, the places that do the car inspections get inspected as well. How come no one has been noticing that we really have no oversight on the food production in the U.S., but, thankfully, we do on haircuts and fashion nails? Also, do barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists, with all their industries’ rigor, get all the subsidies and help that agriculture does? Perhaps, they should be protesting for their fair share of tax dollars? Perhaps the small ones, which most are, need not be asked to take on the “burdens” of their profession? After all, no one really gets sick or dies from a bad haircut.

    When I first meet with farm clients, usually the willing early-adopters, I ask them a couple of questions: “if you were to buy a new car from a big car company or a really small car company, which of these companies should have safe brakes?” Even growers that I talk to believe that ALL cars should have safe brakes. So, then I ask them, “if you send your child to a big school system or a small school system, which system should have qualified teachers?” Even growers I speak to believe that ALL teachers should be qualified for their job. Then, finally, I ask them, “if you were to send your aging mother to a large care home or a small care home, which facility should have safe fruits and vegetables for your mom to eat?” Then, the light goes on – they, too, need to be running on the best practices (GAPs) regardless of their size. And, on we go with tuning them up to run on GAPs. See, size doesn’t matter. Distance doesn’t matter. Pathogens (and lawyers) simply do not care what size of a farm they operate on. Buying directly from a farmer does not mean they know how to operate, or are operating, under GAPs. “Knowing your farmer” because you met them at a farmers market has NOTHING to do with producing and buying pathogen-free produce. Where is the buyer’s due diligence in this transaction? Are they secretly trusting that some mythical government agency is looking out for the quality and safety of their fresh produce?

    In the many dozens of clients we have coached, NONE, have gone out of business getting their farm ready for an (annual) audit and running on GAPs. NONE! All of them are still in business even after a number of annual audits. And, what we found was that the smaller the operation, say they only fertilize and spray for pests every three weeks, they only have to write in their log about 17 times a year – less than one hour of GAP log work over a year in this case. Seriously, how is that a deal breaker? Remember the 5,400 hours a cosmetologist has to put in BEFORE they get into their business? In the entire history of a typical small farm, they will not have to do 5,400 hours of record keeping for GAPs.

    Why would a grocery store, or hotel, or restaurant, or school system want to support small farmers in their community who deliberately thumb their nose at science-based, risk adverse GAPs that are in place to protect consumers? All the GAPs are basically asking is that all farms have toilets; workers wash their hands before harvesting; animals are kept out of the production area, that only the correct chemicals are used (that’s a law) and their use recorded; that irrigation and rinse water be of appropriate microbial water quality; that fertilizers and composts don’t have E. coli, Salmonella or heavy metals in them, and that cases of produce are marked so that in the event of a recall the investigators can get to the precise field in 24 hours or less (and not damage the reputation of many other growers or a whole industry). Is this set of best practices so unreasonable to ask as a baseline, national behavior from all farms selling their food? I know one small farmer, who has the pig pen (“just for home use”) in the middle of their herb farm, will be relieved to know they are following USDA’s definition of sustainable farming because they have an “. . . integrated system of plant and animal production practices . . .” http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/terms/srb9902.shtml#toc2. I guess they are following their version of “common sense” since there are no mandatory GAPs to follow. And, don’t worry, they won’t sell their herbs more than 250 miles from the farm :). Friends, professional businesses of all types have “burdens” (referring to the pushback on farm food safety). They are called professional responsibilities, best practices, laws, regulations, common sense, excellent or leader-like behavior, and so forth. Is it really an “unnecessary burden” for a farm selling produce to implement best practices that would reduce the risk of them harming someone who eats the food they sell? If so, I think the automobile, telecommunications, medical, insurance, banking, and a whole bunch of other industries would like a review of their “burdens,” please.

    As a consumer, I applaud the members of the WGA’s Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, who have small and large farms and organic and conventional farms as members, for how they have taken it upon themselves to be excellent and to police themselves. Take 4:25 minutes now and watch this video and listen to this grower when he talks about HIS “responsibility” “and moral obligation” to produce safe food.
    http://www.caleafygreens.ca.gov/2010/08/lgma-food-safety-model-featured-cnn
    I have yet to hear those words out of any other small or larger farmer I know. I have not heard these words out of anyone in Congress, either. To me, this is a clear market signal and those other farmers who are virtually saying to their customers, like mom’s trying to feed their kids healthier foods, “no, I am not responsible for the safety of my food because in my mind I am too small and I knowingly refuse to follow Good Agricultural Practices, but please buy from me anyway” will eventually be scrambling to catch up. If this attitude persists, it will be really interesting when the new child school nutrition bill comes up in Congress – are schools across the nation now going to be encouraged to buy more locally-grown fruits and vegetables, AND also embrace those farms who refuse to implement GAPs? Geez, I hope not, or Mr. Marler will be a very busy (and wealthier) man.

    Folks, is anyone connecting the dots on this issue? I can’t wait to see small developing nations start more selling GAPs-audited fresh produce to the U.S. at really cheap prices – consumers will love it; and it will be a replay of the fall of the American auto industry.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Robert, thank goodness for you putting in a reality check to the nonsense and fear mongering regarding S. 510. Have you gotten on any of those hostile websites that are spewing the lies? I think your commentary there would really help.
    Gabrielle

  • Noel

    Food safety training and audits that mean something is something everyone can count on but how much trust can a CONSUMER have on slippery self-policing and testimonials?

  • Rampart

    Yes Sir…When I think food safety, I think heaping helpings of Federal red tape, licensing fees and police-state authority to confiscate privately produced product. on a whim. Maybe Washington can do for food safety what it did for oil rig safety in the Gulf!
    At least when the next food contamination event occurs, we’ll all know to blame Monsanto since this bill serves to hand them a virtual monopoly in US Agriculture…
    You folks need to wake up.