Food Safety Bill to Get Senate Vote

The <"">food safety bill is finally being readied for a Senate vote. According to the LA Times, Congress will have the opportunity to vote today on “cloture,” which is, said NPR, “heading off a filibuster by setting a time limit on debate.”

Cloture is meant to enable discourse about the bill with the hopes of enabling its passage, explained NPR. Currently, it appears as if those in favor of the bill either have the 60 votes needed from the Senate or support from the majority—3/5—of those who will be present, said NPR.

Although the legislation made it through a Senate committee last year, it has been delayed ever since. The bill is meant to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enhanced responsibility to ensure the nation’s food safety and would provide the FDA with mandatory recall authority, mandate the agency increase its frequency of food facility inspections, better enable the hiring of new safety inspectors, and enable the FDA access to food producer records.

Passage of the bill has been fraught with challenges due to, in part, to bipartisan issues and increasing FDA oversight over industry concerns. Given the overwhelming amount of food borne illness outbreaks, industry has had no choice but to back increased agency regulation in the face of consistent issues pointing to a broken food safety program.

How food facility inspections will increase or be impacted and what sort of research efforts will be put in place for traceback activities remains unclear; however, facilities are not overly enthusiastic about increased inspections, noted NPR. Improved traceback is welcome because, for instance, identifying the origin of an outbreak can spare an entire crop versus just one field, said NPR.

Today, the FDA does not have the authority to order a recall; however, under the proposed bill, the agency would be able to call a recall and mandate producers document and adhere to safety plans as well as locating and eradicating contamination sources, wrote NPR.

Two items remain open, were not addressed in the measure, and prompted delays. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein requested a ban on the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in food and containers and the exemption for small farmers and food producers from some of the regulations. BPA is a controversial polycarbonate plastic used in many consumer products and which has been linked via hundreds of studies to adverse health reactions.

Most recently, Republican Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn held the bill over issues regarding how to pay for the potential $1.4-billion it will likely take to pay for reforms, said NPR. Now, Senator Jon Tester (Democrat-Montana) is seeking an exemption for small growers, saying, “foodborne illnesses don’t come from family agriculture,” quoted NPR. It is Senator Tester’s contention that the issues originate from larger producers.

Should the bill pass the Senate, it will have to be collaborated with the House version that is costlier and is constructed with stricter food producer demands, said NPR.

If the Senate does manage to pass the bill, it still needs to be reconciled with a House-passed version, which is more expensive and a bit more demanding of food producers.

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