Senate passes bill to boost food safety in US
The Senate passed legislation Tuesday to make food safer in the wake of deadly E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, potentially giving the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food-processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food.
The $1.4 billion bill, which also would place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate 73-25. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks in peanuts, eggs and produce.
Those outbreaks have exposed a lack of resources and authority at the FDA as the embattled agency struggled to contain and trace the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects many food facilities and farms, visiting some every decade or so and others not at all.
The bill would emphasize prevention so the agency could try to stop outbreaks before they begin. Farmers and food processors would have to tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep their food safe at various stages of production.
Despite wide bipartisan support and unprecedented backing from many major food companies, the legislation stalled in the Senate as it came under fire from advocates of buying locally produced food and operators of small farms, who said it would could bankrupt some small businesses.
Senators eventually agreed to an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to exempt some of those operations from costly food-safety plans required of bigger companies, rankling food-safety advocates and larger growers but gaining support from farm-state senators.
No such exemption exists in the House version, which passed in July 2009. The House bill, favored by food-safety advocates, includes more money for FDA inspectors and would charge fees to companies to help pay for the increased regulation.
It also would include stricter penalties for food manufacturers who violate the law.