The Food Safety and Modernization Act: The Tester Amendment (video)

One small farmer’s perspective:

In late December (2010), when CUpS sat down with Anthony Boutard, a local, organically certified small farmer to discuss the implications of the the Food Safety and Modernization Act (S.510), the final bill had not yet been passed, but the addition of the Tester amendment to the bill provided him a huge measure of relief. As Boutard explains in this video, the Tester amendment exempts small farm operations like his from the rigorous testing requirements that he feared could put him, and other small farmers, out of business.

What is important to note, Boutard feels it’s not the size of the farm directly that increases the risk of food contamination, it’s the “process” of how a farm operates. During our interview, he explained the rough differences between a small and midsize farm that in reality does not have clear cut boundaries between them, other than how they are defined by the government.

It’s more like a “continuum”, he says, the small farmer sells directly to his different markets. For Boutard, he delivers his fresh produce to local retailers, and sells at the farmer’s market, without using a broker, or distributor.

As the farmer grows, their procedures begin to change. At some point, if they continue to grow, they must add additional layers of staff. They hire a broker, someone that helps sell their products to a middle person, usually a distributor. The distributor in turn sells to a company headquartered elsewhere, often in another state.

According to Boutard, somewhere around the point where a distributor gets involved, “that farmer has lost control of their food, and that’s where you start slipping away from the small farm market model”.

In order to be classified by the government as being a small farmer, the following three conditions must be met:

1. Annual revenues must be below $500,000
2. They must sell directly to their markets (no brokers, or distributors)
3. They do not sell beyond the 275 mile limit

Agriculture is by nature a complex industry, and does not lend itself to a “one size fits all” regulatory approach. The Tester amendment— by exempting small farms from the testing requirements of this bill—helps bring balance to this legislation by recognizing that small farm operations behave differently than larger farms, and thus operate with lower inherent risks. As Anthony Boutard points out, the Tester amendment does not exempt small farmers from local food safety laws, local health agencies will continue to have jurisdiction, “it’s an exemption from having to answer to a bureaucrat in Washington [FDA} versus a local food safety official”.

By not being included for coverage under the Tester amendment, the midsize farm operation may ultimately bear the full brunt of this bill. It is more than ironic that the midsize farmer is already most at-risk of disappearing from the American landscape. In the final cost benefit analysis, to what extent have the food contamination scares in recent years been traceable to this particular category of farmer?

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