With a vote of 73-25, the Senate voted to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). The bill now heads back to the House for a final vote before it can move to President Obama’s desk to potentially be signed into law.
The question now becomes whether the House will pass the Senate version of the bill before the end of the session, as top House Democrats have promised.
The bill gives the FDA authority to recall food, conduct inspections, and demand heightened accountability and record-keeping by farmers and producers. The controversial Tester-Hagan Amendment, which makes producers and farmers who sell less than $500,000 worth of food annually exempt from the regulations, was added to the bill.
The bill does not address the issue of overlapping duties amongst the FDA, USDA, and many other federal agencies. While the FDA regulates vegetables, the USDA regulates meat and poultry.
According to “Food Politics” author Marion Nestle, the reason there have been so many contamination problems is because animal waste seeps into vegetable fields. The Food Safety Bill addresses this with its “preventive controls,” but Nestle thinks the bill should have done more. “I’ve been a supporter for decades of the single food safety agency,” she says. “I wish Congress had the nerve to take that up, but they decided from the get-go that it was politically impossible.”
An alternate food safety bill presented by Tom Coburn (R-OK) was voted down 36-62. Despite opposition from Sen. Coburn, the Food Safety Modernization Act is one of the few bipartisan pieces of legislation to come from this Congress.