Food Safety Bill Fate In Question

The long-delayed <"">food safety bill could be brought to life yet again, it becomes part of the larger year-end budget bill, according to Business Week.The bill finally passed in the US Senate last week, but its fate became uncertain after an issue with constitutional procedure was discovered by staffers.

According to Democrats in the House of Representatives, said Business Week, the bill, in its current form, contains fees considered to be tax provisions. As we’ve previously written, bills including these types of fees must originate in the House.

To correct the issue, House Democrats are in the process of adding the legislation to the larger spending bill that was announced yesterday, this should correct the constitutional issue, said Business Week. It is hoped that the bill will be passed into law before the lame-duck session ends this month.

The section causing the holdup imposes fees on those importers, farmers, and food processors whose food is recalled due to contamination. The issue concerns the tax ramification of those fees.

A similar bill previously passed in the House; however, the Senate version must be collaborated with the House version that is costlier and constructed with stricter food producer demands. Many consider the House version superior because it was written with less exceptions and includes inspection funding.

Both versions increase Food & Drug Administration (FDA) power over issuing food recalls, increase facility inspections, mandate food producer accountability, and increase farm activity oversight, said the NY Times previously, which noted that neither version compresses redundant U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—and other entities—food safety and oversight functions. This ongoing duplication has created significant coordination issues.

Critics of the proposed Senate bill note that while the bill makes some positive steps toward preventing food borne pathogenic outbreaks that have crippled small growers and sickened scores, even killing consumers, the new bill does not allow federal food safety regulators to file criminal charges against those food producers who intentionally place tainted food in consumer hands, noted CNN yesterday.

A report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council stated that the FDA needs to step up food safety operations, according to a prior Associated Press (AP) article. The report faulted the agency’s efficiency, saying it needs to use its limited funds to prevent food borne illness outbreaks and that the FDA does not have what it takes to protect consumers and has a tendency to be reactive, not preventative. The report suggests the agency concentrate on outbreak prevention in the riskiest foods and not case-by-case responses, wrote the AP.

The FDA is responsible for the safety of most of the nation’s food supply—some 80 percent—such as seafood, dairy, and produce as well as having oversight for over 150,000 food facilities, over one million restaurants and food establishments, and over two million farms, according to the AP, previously.

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