A food safety bill passed a Senate vote Tuesday after being delayed by politics for more than a year. A recent flurry of salmonella and E. coli outbreaks has underscored that the Food and Drug Administration lacks the resources to adequately protect the population from tainted food. The food safety bill, coming with a price tag of of $1.4 billion, authorizes the federal government to increase inspections and initiate recalls of tainted food.
Food safety bill survives lame-duck session
The food safety bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 73-25 is one of the few items of legislation that Congress was expected to deal with in its lame-duck session at the end of the year. The Food Safety Enhancement Act requires FDA inspections of food processing plants and farms with a high risk of contamination once every three years. Until now, the FDA, when it has conducted inspections at all, has done so about once a decade. The food safety bill also gives the FDA authority to order mandatory recalls, instead of the current practice of waiting for corporations to do so voluntarily. Imported foods, of which the FDA currently inspects about 1 percent, will also be subject to stricter standards.
Food safety tainted by politics
The food safety bill is supported by both big agribusiness and consumer advocate groups. But despite being passed by the House in July 2009, the Senate played politics with the legislation for a year and a half. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked the food safety bill last fall. Tea Party activists cried overreaching government. Glenn Beck called the food safety bill a government plot to inflate meat prices and force consumers to become vegetarians. As the bill languished in the Senate, there were 85 recalls of FDA-regulated foods associated with 1,850 food-borne illnesses.
Food industry stands behind bill
The food safety bill passed despite conflicts between agribusiness and small farms. Small farmers refused to be held to the same standards as major corporations. Agribusiness said no one should be exempt. After Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., added an amendment exempting small farmers, some large agricultural groups withdrew their support. However, even major corporations involved in recent recalls have said they will benefit from a food safety bill that provides clear regulation and levels the playing field in the food industry.