Food Safety Bill Passes, Threatened by Error

You have to love politics. The U.S. Senate managed to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is intended to make massive changes to the food safety system in our country. However, due to a “procedural error” the bill will have to make its way through the Senate again.

This has some Republicans licking their chops at blocking the legislation unless Democrats agree to extend the Bush tax cuts.

As I say, you gotta love politics.

The arguments are pretty much par for the course. Those who oppose the act fear heavy-handed federal oversight. Those for it say that it is much overdue oversight of an industry that doesn’t take enough safety precautions with one of the country’s most valuable resources: our food.

So, what is the intention of the Food Safety Modernization Act? The main thrust of the legislation is to fight – or prevent – food-born illnesses. This would include more authority for the Food and Drug Administration to test for dangerous pathogens and to recall contaminated food.

The law also seeks to protect U.S. citizens from unsafe food produced overseas. In fact, imported foods would be subject to the same standards as those made in the United States for the very first time.

The bill also requires more inspections of large-scale, high-risk food production plants. So, you can see a pattern unfolding as to why large food companies, and those who watch out for their interests, don’t like the bill. More oversight and a higher possibility of recalls may mean a pinch in their bottom line.

Environmental activist Michael Pollan wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that this is “the best opportunity in a generation to improve the safety of  the American food supply.”

Unlike the health care reform bill, the Food Modernization Act isn’t split down party lines. In fact, the notoriously conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorses the bill, saying it will “improve America’s ability to prevent food-borne illness and boost consumer confidence in U.S. food supplies while minimally burdening small farms and consumers.”

Here’s more from the Chamber’s Executive Vice President Bruce Josten: “This legislation would improve food safety by requiring all food manufacturers to develop a food safety plan, providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with new tools to ensure the safety of imported food, and employing a rational, risk-based approach to inspection.”

The only thing that is clear is who opposes the bill – all 25 senators who voted against it are Republicans.

There have been legitimate concerns that the legislation could smother small farmers with costly regulations that would threaten their business. But an amendment sponsored by Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont. and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., makes exceptions for small producers who sell their food to local restaurants, grocers or directly to consumers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a group of 40 organizations ranging from family farms to conservation groups, supports the amended legislation:

“Family farm and sustainable agriculture groups applaud the Senate for moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Rather than backing rigid, one-size-fits-all regulation of the type favored by industry to squeeze out family farmers, the Senate improved the original bill through a series of carefully crafted and balanced amendments to ensure improved food safety without creating unnecessary barriers to farm profitability.”

One of the more brazen acts of opposition came from Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, who went on the Senate floor and, according to Pollan’s op-ed, said that only 10 or 20 Americans die every year of a food-borne illness. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number is closer to 5,000.

We will be sure to update you as details unfold with regards to the glitch in the bill and where the food safety bill ends up in the coming weeks.

(via: New York Times and L.A. Times)

UPDATE (12/19/10):

Putting in a little weekend work, the U.S. Senate has approved the Food Safety Bill bill by unanimous consent. Some thought the legislation was doomed to fail until this weekend’s surprise news. It still has to pass the House, but that is not expected to be a problem; either is having President Obama sign the legislation, since he has championed the bill.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that the bill is “one of the best holiday gifts (Americans) can receive this year – the assurance the foods they are eating are safer.”

Under current laws, the government catches contamination, but after the fact. Under the new rules, manufacturers and farmers are required to develop strategies to prevent contamination and test those measures on an ongoing basis to make sure they continue to work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *