Food safety bill passes in Senate

Reuters: "The Senate passed the largest overhaul of the U.S. food safety system in decades on Tuesday, a response to massive recalls such as last summer's recall of half a billion eggs in a salmonella outbreak. The Senate voted 73-25 to pass the bill. The House of Representatives backed a different version in July 2009. With their post-election session due to end by mid-December, lawmakers have just weeks to resolve their differences and send legislation to President Barack Obama to sign into law." Under the legislation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would gain the authority to recall food if a company refuses to do so voluntarily and increase inspections at some food processing plants and "expand FDA capabilities to trace the source of food borne disease outbreaks such as E. coli and salmonella" (11/30).

The Wall Street Journal: "Proponents say the bill would bring faster responses to contamination outbreaks and mean fewer safety blowups. 'The new law requires a fundamental shift in the [FDA's] food-safety program, emphasizing prevention instead of waiting until people become sick or die,' said Chris Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America." The bill is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as "major business groups representing food producers and grocery stores." Small farms had "warned of higher prices as businesses comply with the new rules, and said consumers might lose access to some local produce if smaller farmers couldn't keep up" (Mundy/Tomson, 12/1).

National Journal: Unlike the House version of the bill, "the Senate version leaves FDA funding for expanded investigations up to appropriators, and getting extra funds could be an uphill battle in a deficit-concerned and divided Congress, ... requires less frequent inspections of high- and low-risk facilities than the House version, and includes compromise language from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., exempting certain small farmers from some regulations" (11/30).

Roll Call: But the House may end up blocking the bill "because Democrats violated a constitutional provision requiring that tax provisions originate in the House. By pre-empting the House's tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as 'blue slipping' to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides. The debacle could prove to be a major embarrassment for Senate Democrats." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could "simply drop the issue and let the next session of Congress start from scratch," or he could "could try to force the issue in the Senate after the House passes a new version of the bill" (Stanton, 11/30).

CNN: Meanwhile, food safety advocates "said [the bill is] a good step forward, but lacking in several important areas regarding inspections on U.S. facilities and imported foods." The bill does give the FDA new power to prevent food borne illness but "the FDA cannot file criminal charges against producers who knowingly put contaminated food into the market (Landau, 11/30).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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