The Senate passed a food safety bill Tuesday, that among other things makes it easier to recall contaminated foods, increases inspections, gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a host of new regulatory powers and funding related to food safety, and makes it easier to trace contaminations.
Supporters of the $1.4 billion bill, which passed with a vote of 73 to 25, said passage is critical in the wake of recent large-scale outbreaks of bacterial contaminants in things like peanut butter, eggs and spinach, reports Bob Fuss with CBS News radio. Additionally, the FDA has rarely inspected many facilities and some not at all.
Currently, the FDA does not have the power to order food recalls. Instead, it must ask food manufacturers to do so voluntarily. This legislation grants the FDA that power.
The new legislation also includes exemptions for farmers selling less than $500,000 each year that directly market to consumers in a 275 mile areas, reports CBS News.
The small business provision may have been crucial to the bill's passage, as the legislation's chief opponents were advocates for buying locally produced food and small farm operators, AP reports.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., got an agreement to advance the legislation by allowing Republicans to offer amendments not relevant to the bill, the AP reports.
Whether the bill will pass during the brief lame-duck congressional session is unclear since the House approved a different version of the legislation in 2009. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the sponsor of the bill, said he has agreement from some members in the House to take up the Senate bill if it is passed.
The House's 2009 food safety 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 would also include stricter penalties for food manufacturers who violate the law.
Senate sponsors tweaked the original bill eliminating the fees and reducing the amount of money spent on inspectors, for example, to gain votes in their own chamber and to make the bill more palatable in the House.
Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Health Group, said advocates are pleased with the Senate bill and realize there is not enough time to push for some of the stronger House provisions.
"We think the Senate bill is a major step forward for public health," he said.
Senators rejected several unrelated amendments to the bill, including an amendment to place a moratorium on earmarks, or pet projects in lawmakers' states and districts, and one to repeal an arcane tax provision that helps pay for President Barack Obama's new health care law.
Some of the bill's provisions
- Gives the FDA authority to recall contaminated foods. It is currently a voluntary system
- Exempts farmers selling less than $500,000 each year that "directly market to consumers in a 275 mile areas.
- Increases inspections at food facilities. Once every three years for high-risk facilities.
- Requires importers to verify food safety.
- Increases traceability and tracking of high risk foods. Creates a pilot program to increase contamination traceability.
- Allows FDA to access records if there is reasonable probability a food is causing sickness or death in humans or animals.
- Allows FDA to create new standards for the safety of fresh produce.
- FDA can collect fees for non-compliance with recalls or reinspections.
- FDA must form new regulations on safe food transport conditions.
- FDA can allow outside laboratories to conduct third party inspections to ease the load for the FDA.
- Increases funding and staff at FDA.
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