Food Safety Bill in Jeopardy Thanks to Constitutional Snafu

The long-awaited <"">food safety bill that had stalled in the Senate and which finally received approval to proceed and which passed in the Senate earlier this week (73-25), is facing another snag, this time over constitutional procedure.

Now, Congress is working to get the bill passed into law before the lame-duck session ends this month, said the Washington Post, which explained that that hold-up has to do with a constitutional provision discovered by staffers.

It seems that staffers found that one section of the proposed bill could be in violation of a mandate that requires new taxes be originated in the House, not the Senate, said the Washington Post. 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.

The section causing the holdup imposes fees on those importers, farmers, and food processors whose food is recalled due to contamination; if these fees translate into taxes, the Senate vote could be made null, the Washington Post explained. It is the House Ways and Means Committee that determines if the fees translate into taxes, added the Washington Post. Leaders in the House were meeting yesterday to find a way to save the bill from nullification.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Democrat-Maryland), speaking to reporters said, ‘This has happened to us four or five times with the Senate…. The Senate knows this rule and should follow this rule. They should be cognizant of the rule. Nobody ought to be surprised by this rule. It’s in the Constitution. And they’ve all been lectured, and we have as well, about reading the Constitution,” quoted the Washington Post.

House leaders, said the Washington Post, were aware of the procedural issue, but said that they would accept the Senate’s bill; President Obama said he would sign the bill into law, as well.

Although there are some options to restore the bill, just about all of them mandate yet another vote, an issue given the challenging schedule ahead for the rest of the year, said the Washington Post. Also, noted the paper, Senate Republicans wrote to Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Democrat-Nevada) promising to prevent legislation presented during the lame-duck session not extending tax cuts or providing government funding.

Meanwhile, critics of the proposed Senate bill note that while the bill makes some positive steps toward preventing foodborne 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.

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