Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Small Win For Farmers Markets In Senate Food Safety Bill

Senate Bill 510
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
The US Senate passed SB510 this morning, which included an important exemption for small scale farms.

The US Senate passed a sweeping overhaul of food safety rules today that would give the Food and Drug Administration substantially more power to issue recalls and oversee food producers.

The New York Times reports that one of the final sticking points was how the legislation would affect small scale farm operations.

Some small-farm and organic food advocates warned that the legislation would destroy their industry under a mountain of paperwork, and Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat of Montana, pushed for a recent addition to the bill that exempts producers with less than $500,000 a year in sales who sell most of their food locally.

The bill passed the Senate with Tester's amendment, a huge relief for Judith McGeary with the Austin-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.  

"For instance, one section of the bill gives FDA authority to tell farmers how to grow and harvest their crops, and particularly because FDA tends to pay attention to the big agribusiness system, these sorts of regulations would have been disaster for small scale diversified farms," McGeary told KUT News.

Large industrial farms often grow one fruit, grain or vegetable over a large piece of land. Small scale operations, like Boggy Creek Farms in Austin for example, grow multiple varieties of fruits and vegetables on ten acres.

"You can't keep up with those sorts of different requirements. It's not possible," she said.

No one knows exactly how many small scale farms there are in Texas. But the majority of fruits and vegetables at Austin's farmers market come from operations that would be protected under the exemptions, McGeary said.

But her battle isn't over yet. The House version of the bill doesn't contain the same exemptions for small operators. With the limited amount of time left to adopt legislation, House Democratic leaders have indicated they may scrap their bill and just put the full Senate version up for a vote, according to the Times.

Read Senate Bill 510 here.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.