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Food safety bill 101: What are the facts and myths?

The Food Safety Modernization Act has riled everyone from liberal 'locavores' to conservative tea party groups. Here's a rundown of what's really in the Senate bill.

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Even though the bill in essence orders the FDA to be nice to local food producers, some farm groups say it ultimately doesn't place enough limits on the agency's power over small farmers and even backyard gardeners.

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Is Uncle Sam trying to seize control of the US seed bank?

SB 510 does require inspection of seed-cleaning machines – a provision that could make it harder for farmers to collect their own seeds and could benefit large seed producers like Monsanto. But the law does not specifically restrict the ability of Americans to collect and store seeds for their own purposes.

If it is harder for farmers to collect their own seeds, that could mean more dominance of genetically modified seed stocks, which farmers have to relicense every year. "Once you use that GMO seed the traditional genetic diversity of the seed bank dwindles and is lost," Kimberly Labno of the Penn State Cooperative Extension told the Phawker.com blog.

Who supports SB 510? Who's against it?

Supporters include General Mills, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, and the National Association of Manufacturers. Opponents include the American Grassfed Association, Family Farm Defenders, and the Small Farms Conservancy. The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, which represents smaller farmers, has backed the bill.

Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation," and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," support the law in its current form. "SB 510 is the most important food safety legislation in a generation," they wrote recently. "The Tester Amendment will make it even more effective, strengthening food safety rules while protecting small farmers and producers. We both think this is the right thing to do."

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