General Assembly passes Sosnowski, Ruggiero bill that makes DEM responsible for Food Safety Act enforcement
STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) that would make the Department of Environmental Management responsible for enforcing the provisions of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.
The legislation (2017-S 720A, 2017-H 6345) would authorize the director of the Department of Environmental Management to enforce the act as it pertains to commercial growers of fruits and vegetables. The measure now moves to the governor’s office.
“Our farmers are always the first to advocate for a safe food supply,” said Senator Sosnowski, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture. “This particular federal act puts an incredible burden on the small farmer. Rhode Island sells a larger percentage of direct-to-consumer produce than any other state in the country. That’s why it’s imperative that this act be enforced locally by an agency that knows farmers — namely the Division of Agriculture in the Department of Environmental Management.”
Farm organizations in the state, including the Rhode Island Farm Bureau and the Rhode Island Agricultural Council, contacted lawmakers asking that enforcement of the federal regulations be under DEM auspices rather than the Department of Health in the belief that agencies that were already familiar with agricultural needs would be better suited to implement the regulations fairly and reasonably.
“We worked with the famers to put this law in because they already have excellent food safety practices put in place,” said Representative Ruggiero. “Rhode Island farmers have been voluntarily using GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) for 13 years. They want food to be safe, and we need to support local farmers. They want to work with an agency that they’re comfortable with and that they trust, namely the Division of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Management.”
GAP is a voluntary audit that verifies that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
In addition to the legislation, the Senate passed a resolution (2017-S 0919A) introduced by Senator Sosnowski asking the Rhode Island congressional delegation to revise the Food Safety Modernization Act and delay its implementation. Among the concerns brought up in the resolution is that the regulations should be implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture rather than the Food and Drug Administration.
It also states the concern that once the act is implemented, it will be uneconomical for small farmers to continue to operate.
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903