Senate Adopts Food Safety bill

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

In the wake of this year’s spate of food-borne illnesses, the Senate on Tuesday morning passed the most comprehensive food safety bill since the 1930s.

S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, grants new regulatory authority to the Food and Drug Administration, charges food producers with responsibility for maintaining safety of the food supply, and for the first time institutes inspection rules and safety standards for imported foods.

The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in July 2009 and sent it to the Senate, where it languished until now. Angered by the Senate’s delay, in Jul 2010 Rep. John Dingell (D-MI15) wrote

This is the most awesomely frustrating thing I’ve ever undergone. Seventy-six million people are sickened by bad food in this country every year, 300,000 go to the hospital and 5,000 die. And the Senate sits on this bill like a hen on an egg.

The Senate vote was 73-25, giving optimists cause to hope that cooperation may be making a comeback on the chamber floor.

As is the way of the Senate, the bill came up adorned with 18 proposed amendments, some unrelated to food safety. One had to do with removal of an obnoxious paperwork requirement tucked into the health care bill that nobody will hate to see go away. Another relieved small farms with mainly local customers and sales less than $500,000 a year from the proposed law’s paperwork and inspection requirements.

It’s too soon after the vote to determine which of the 18 survived, but these two are the most likely — and the most friendly to truly small enterprises.

The House bill, while not specifically exempting farms that do business locally and at farmers’ markets, instructed the FDA to take into account their specific needs, which would have opened the door to regulations that would do the same thing the Senate amendment proposes.

Since the two bills differ on some points, the possibility exists that the measure won’t make it through a conference committee convened to adjust the language. But indications are that the House leadership will push for acceptance of the Senate version, thereby speeding the bill on its way to the President’s desk for his signature. There is no doubt he will sign.

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2 Responses to “Senate Adopts Food Safety bill”

  1. The problem I have with the FDA is that its one big organization that’s in charge of regulating a hell of a lot of things, which is bad for them and bad for the people its built to protect; higher potential for foul-ups, in my opinion.
    In Canada (I’m doing this research on-the-fly, so bear with me) we have separate departments for everything, it seems. Food is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, drugs and dangerous product recalls by Health Canada, etc.

  2. Canada is, as is often the case, ahead of the US. Here both the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture have responsibility for food safety.

    As I understand it, inspection in the past has been the brief of USDA. The Food Safety Act shifts inspections to the FDA and gives them the money needed to carry them out. I have my gripes with the FDA in the drug department, but I think they will do a better job of inspections — for a while, at least.

    Of course it would make sense to give food to one agency and drugs to another, but the turf wars that would engender boggle the mind. I can’t imagine anyone in Washington — regardless of party — with the courage to take on that battle.

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