President to Sign Food Safety Bill

The long-delayed <"">food safety bill may finally see the light of day. President Obama is scheduled to sign the $1.4 billion food safety system overhaul today. The bill passed this fall, only to be derailed due to a constitutional snafu.

The original bill was thought to be a done deal earlier this fall, having passed the Senate, and then the House of Representatives. But shortly after its passage, it was realized that the bill contained fees considered to be tax provisions. As we’ve previously written, the Constitution requires that bills including these types of fees must originate in the House. The issues have since been resolved and the Senate passed the bill late last month by consent.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime update. A lot has changed since 1938,” which is when current mandates were established, said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union, previously. “This will put FDA in a posture to prevent food-borne illness before it happens,” Gadhia added, quoted the LA Times. The bill represents the

The bill will provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with increased power over food recalls, facility inspections, and farming oversight and will mandate accountability from food producers. The bill was prompted, said the Associated Press (AP) by a number of significant food borne illness outbreaks in the past several years that included recalls of such common staples as peanuts, tomatoes, and eggs.

“It will bring our food safety system into the 21st century, improving health, saving lives and helping Americans feel confident that when they sit down at their dinner table they won’t end up in the hospital,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a conference call yesterday, quoted the AP.

Although the FDA receives some significant authority increases, how the legislation will be funded remains unclear, said the AP, which noted that supporters of the bill plan on getting funding through Congress.

According to Representative Jack Kingston, who is also seeking the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, “our food supply is 99.999 percent safe,” citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people fall ill from food borne outbreaks annually, said the AP. According to a recent CDC announcement, tainted food has led to 3,000 reported deaths every year and, as the AP pointed out, 180,000 hospitalizations.

But, Kingston feels that given that there are over 308 million people, the data indicates that the agency is doing a “very decent job on food safety already,” quoted the AP. Kingston is not in favor of additional FDA funding. “I think we’ll look very carefully at the funding before we support $1.4 billion,” he told the AP in an interview yesterday.

Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs at the Pew Health Group, disagrees, saying that the cost linked to food borne pathogenic outbreaks costs in the tens of billions of dollars, significantly more that the law will cost, wrote the AP. “This will save a great deal of money, both for consumers and for the industry,” Olson told reporters on the conference call arranged by the administration, quoted the AP.

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