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Senate Food Safety Bill Amendments Proposed, Final Debate Delayed

A final vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act has been further delayed so the Senate can instead focus on financial regulatory reform.

capitol hill

Photo: wallyg

The Senate has decided to focus on financial regulatory reform next week, further postponing debate and voting on the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Floor debate in the U.S. Senate and a final vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act has been further delayed so the Senate can instead focus on financial regulatory reform.

The bill had been slated for long-awaited floor debate next week, after having been delayed several times since leaving committee in mid-November 2009, by the health care reform debate and other issues.

The House version of the bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, was passed by the full House in June of 2009.

The purpose of the bill, which is expected to easily pass the Senate with bipartisan support, is:

To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.

But a number of sustainable agriculture groups are concerned with the potential impact of additional federal regulation on farmers and small-scale food producers.

Proposed Amendments

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded a package of proposed amendments this week that would be voted on as a package when the bill reaches the Senate floor (a procedure called a “manager’s amendment”).

Additional amendments proposed by Montana Senator John Tester seek to exempt food facilities with under $500,000 gross annual sales from two costly provisions in the Senate bill, one dealing with risk-based preventative controls and another dealing with traceability and record keeping.

Other organizations oppose federal exemptions for small producers. Sandra Eskin of The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the partners in the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, told Food Safety News that “Food should be safe regardless of its source,” and argues for scale-appropriate regulation, but not exemptions.

Both sides of this particular debate are behind the majority of the bill, calling it a dramatic improvement over what we have now. Final wrangling over amendments is expected to continue until the bill is finally brought to the floor for debate by the full Senate, which could now be several weeks (or more, given that the Senate now has the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice and other issues to deal with).

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Laura Bult

Laura Bult is a spring intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies, with minors in English Literature and Spanish.

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  • Carol L. Tucker-Foreman

    S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, does create a Food Safety Administration within the Department of HHS. That provision was in a House bill proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro but is not included in the bill that passed the House of Representatives in July 2009 or in S. 510.

    S. 510 does require, for the first time in history, that the FDA take steps to prevent foodborne illness rather than waiting until people get sick and then trying to prevent disease from spreading further. It establishes a risk-based system in which inspections would be focused on processors and products most likely to cause illness and requires the FDA to increase scrutiny of imported products which are an increasing part of the American diet and are often produced under safety and health conditions far more lenient than those in the U.S. S. 510 does not include any registration fees for food processors.

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