Senate Passes Bill to Overhaul Food Safety

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REUTERS/Adam Tanner

There isn’t much Congress agrees on these days, but one area that has enjoyed uncommon bipartisan support is food safety. On Tuesday, the Senate passed new legislation by a vote of 73 to 25 that would greatly increase the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to protect the nation’s food supply.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the food-safety bill in 2009, and industry insiders did not expect the Senate to vote on similar legislation this term. Now, with little time for the two chambers to negotiate their terms, the concern is that the bill may still die. But the New York Times reports that “top House Democrats said that they would consider simply passing the Senate version to speed approval.” (More on FDA Approves Second Trial of Stem-Cell Therapy)

The legislation not only has support from both Democrats and Republicans, but also from the industry it aims to regulate — recent food scares have cost food companies a lot of money — and consumer groups.

Over at Ecocentric, my colleague Bryan Walsh writes:

The bill, which had been languishing in the Senate for more than a year despite support from both sides of the political aisle, will require better record-keeping from food producers, and most importantly, will give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to recall contaminated food under its own authority, rather than depending on voluntary action by industry. (Yes, the FDA—the agency charged with keep America’s sprawling food system safe—has never had the power to order a recall of contaminated food. I was surprised to learn that too.) The bill came against the backdrop of a spate of high-profile and deadly contamination events, including the recall of half a billion eggs this summer that was connected to salmonella outbreaks, and a recall of peanut butter also connected to food poisoning. “It’s really a paradigm shift,” Chris Waldrop, the director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, told Andrew Zajac of the Chicago Tribune. “It moves the agency from reacting to outbreaks and recalls to preventing them.”

The bill also gives the FDA more control over imported food, allowing the agency to increase inspection of foreign processing plants and to set standards for how produce should be grown in other countries. (More on Four Loko Lawsuit: Did Caffeinated Alcohol Cause Death?)

Unlike the House bill, however, which required food producers to pay an annual fee to help fund increased inspections, the Senate’s version omits that provision. Where the funding would come from is an outstanding question.

For an incisive take on the new bill, see Bryan’s full post here.

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