Bioterror food bill and registering all farms

Marcie Rosenzweig fullcircle at jps.net
Thu Dec 13 05:27:28 EST 2001


Bioterror food bill altered

By Michael Doyle
Bee Washington Bureau

  WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers fighting bioterrorism came within
a whisker of requiring family farms to register with the
Food and Drug Administration.

Those sweeping registration requirements were shaved Tuesday
after facing opposition from the likes of Mariposa Republican
George Radanovich.

The prospect remains, though, for California agribusiness
to shoulder new burdens under the flag of antiterrorism.

Central Valley packinghouses still would have to register,
under the bioterrorism bill scheduled for quick approval
by the House Tuesday. Food importers also would have to file
reports with the federal government 24 hours before bringing
in food shipments.

In the bill moving lickety-split through Capitol Hill, lawmakers
also initially required FDA registration by "any facility
engaged in manufacturing, processing or handling food" for
U.S. consumption.

"We looked at that section and said, 'Whoa!' " said John
McCamman, Radanovich's chief of staff.

First alerted to the registration provision by an agricultural
lobbyist Friday, McCamman and Radanovich made their displeasure
known. By Tuesday morning, authors of the "Public Health
Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2001" had exempted
farms from the registration requirement.

"We advised them that [Radanovich] would hate to get into
a position of voting against a bioterrorism bill on the floor,
but that he might have to," McCamman said.

Exactly which agricultural establishments would be exempt
from registering remains unclear, even with the legislative
changes.

The bill scheduled for approval Tuesday went directly to
the House floor without benefit of the traditional public
committee markup.

Even with the exemptions, moreover, the legislation could
impose new paperwork requirements for portions of California's
$27 billion-a-year agricultural sector, including a $6.4
billion industry in the Central Valley.

California's approximately 5,100 food processors, for instance,
still would face federal registration requirements. Food
imports also could be held at the border, unless the importing
companies had first filed reports that include descriptions
of the product, name of the manufacturer and shipper, the
country of origin and more.

With the United States importing more than $37 billion worth
of agricultural products annually, government filing cabinets
could fill quickly. Foreign countries conceivably could raise
free-trade complaints about the new reporting.

Some California growers, though, say additional reporting
rules might be palatable.

"I think we could live with that as long as there was some
leeway in the details of the information they would require,"
said Dan Gerawan, a Fresno County grower who also imports
table grapes from Mexico. "With fresh produce, it is sometimes
necessary to harvest and ship the same day, so exact quantities
may not be known at the time the 24-hour notice is given."

California already requires food processors to register with
the state Department of Health Services; in addition to the
5,100 registered food processors, the state has another 200
licensed canners. The state's existing registration requirements
could minimize the additional burden of new federal registration
rules.

The reporter can be reached at mdoyle at mcclatchydc.com or
(202) 383- 0006.

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Marcie A. Rosenzweig
Full Circle
3377 Early Times Ln
Auburn, CA  95603-7900
(530) 885-9201




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