Food safety bill update: So close, but not done yet

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You deserve safe, healthy food. Help us label GMOs and get antibiotics out of food animals.

By Consumers Union on Monday, December 6th, 2010

Despite the fact that over 80% of Americans want to see the FDA empowered with more authority and tools to prevent food safety problems, plus widespread support from public health leaders, foodborne illness victims, and major food industry groups, the food safety reform bill continues to be a victim of delays in Washington.

When the bill finally passed the Senate last week with overwhelming bipartisan support (!), food safety advocates celebrated and breathed a huge sigh of relief that it squeaked through during this end-of-year ‘lame duck’ session.   Because of the limited time left in this session of Congress, it sounded like the House planned to do a quick vote and accept the Senate version, and send the bill to the President’s desk

But not so fast!  (…if you could call this process ‘fast’)

The House took a look at the Senate’s version of the bill and felt there was a glitch.  The Senate bill gives the FDA the right to collect fees from food importers and processors to cover the costs of inspections.   But the Constitution states that all revenue-generating legislation must originate in the House of Representatives. 

We don’t feel that these fees generate the kind of revenue that would require the bill to jump new hurdles, but it is what it is.

So even though the House was already planning a vote on Senate bill, this error has unfortunately created time for other stall tactics to develop.  Lobbyists for some big agriculture interests are back on the beat, using the opportunity to try to eliminate protections for small farmers that were included in the Senate’s bill.   Some House members are threatening to pull their support for the bill and are now fighting, at this late date, to make significant changes to the language.

If ever there was an eleventh hour for a bill, this is it.    With just a couple weeks left in 2010, the House must move quickly to approve this long-overdue legislation.  We still need time for the final House-passed version to go to the Senate for one last vote, after which it will finally go to the President for signature into law.

We can’t put it any better than this – from a gentleman who commented on last week’s blog post:

“As a former FDA consumer safety officer for 42 years, and who has inspected thousands of food processors and distributors who ship interstate, I can say with first hand knowledge that we need to give the FDA the resources to do the job effectively. The frequency of inspections is poor because the FDA never has enough inspectors. Many interstate shippers are rarely inspected. FDA must be proactive to prevent problems, not reactive after people get sick from contaminated food. And FDA must have the power to order recalls. And we need to have the resources to keep imports out of our nation if they do not meet our high standards. This legislation will help accomplish these goals. It’s a no brainer!”

Thousands of you have made phone calls and sent emails over the past couple of years in support of food safety reform.  All we can say is: please don’t stop now!   We’re so close to getting this bill to the President, who awaits with pen poised to sign it into law.   But it needs to clear the House to get there.

If you haven’t taken action yet and emailed your House member asking for one more vote in support of food safety, please do it now!   They need to know that time is up, and you expect them to take action before adjourning for the year.

We promise to keep the updates on the bill coming – twists, turns and otherwise.

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