by Jordan Green

The Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act is expected to become law in the new year, following approval in both houses of Congress.

It was awaiting President Obama’s signature at last check. The legislation received unanimous approval in the Senate on Dec. 19, and passed the House two days later. Among members of the Triad’s delegation, Democrats Mel Watt and Brad Miller voted for approval, while Republican Virginia Foxx voted no and fellow GOP legislator Howard Coble did not vote.

The Washington Post reported in early December that “at least 221 organizations hired 77 lobbying shops to quibble over details” in the bill. Among the legislation’s provisions, according to the FDA, is a requirement that food facilities have preventive control plans on file outlining action in event of an outbreak of foodborne illness, an increase in frequency of inspections and government authority to mandate recalls.

Farm-country Democrats, such Sen.

Kay Hagan of Greensboro, threw up caution flags to their more urban colleagues, seeking to protect their respective states’ important agricultural sectors.

Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry, according to a Hagan press release, and generates $74 billion in economic activity while employing almost a fifth of the state’s workers.

Hagan was a cosponsor of the Tester amendment, named after Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), which exempts small producers who gross $500,000 or less in annual sales and whose markets lie within the same state or within a 275-mile radius.

“Because of this amendment, Hagan said in a prepared statement, “small farmers can continue bringing their homemade jellies, vegetables and freshly baked bread to the farmers market without being overburdened by new government regulations.”

Not everyone has been so complimentary. United Fresh, an industry association that represents companies throughout the global produce supply chain applauded the preventive controls even as its senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther bemoaned that the Tester amendment “threatens the health and well-being of a nation of consumers..”