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WASHINGTON -- The Senate invoked cloture Nov. 17 to move forward with debate on S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

During the debate on the bill, the Senate will consider a provision in the bill that would exempt certain segments of the food industry, including food facilities and farm operations, from requirements for basic food safety standards.

Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association's senior vice president of public policy, issued the following statement on the bill:

"The fresh produce industry strongly supports the modernization of federal food safety laws and has supported legislation both in the House and Senate for the last several years along these lines. In fact, United Fresh has testified more than a dozen times before congressional committees advocating for this historic reform to move forward.

Unfortunately, the Senate may undermine this effort by including language in the final bill that would exempt certain sectors of the food industry based on geographic location, size of operation and to whom they sell their food products. Supporters of this effort have portrayed these exemptions as protecting small businesses, that locally grown commodities are somehow safer, or that federal government standards are not adequate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact remains that when a food-safety incident occurs, farmers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, regardless of size, suffer significant economic hardships. Most importantly, the vast majority of businesses who suffer this economic hardship have nothing to do with any single food-safety incident. In addition, small and local food operations have been associated with a number of food-safety incidents and recalls over the last decade and are not immune based on size of operation, distance of geography or commodity.

Statements have been made indicating that fresh produce would be covered under this bill and consumers could be more confident in their food supply. Unfortunately, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. An effective food- safety program in the U.S. is a shared responsibility of everyone. Most importantly, each of us has to do our part, whether we are a producer, processor, food retailer or foodservice provider or a consumer.

This also means that Congress needs to do its part by supporting a uniform food safety bill that will enhance food safety for citizens of this country and reject arbitrary exemptions that pick winners and losers."

The cloture motion was passed on a vote of 74-25. The Senate will now move forward with up to 30 hours of debate on this bill before coming up for final passage, according to United.