How A Food Bill Becomes A Law
By Consumers Union on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Our food safety laws are in serious need of updating. How do we make that happen? Essentially, by changing and strengthening the law that governs our national food safety system, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). After multiple hearings to investigate repeated episodes of deadly food contamination, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have taken steps to amend this law – which has not been comprehensively updated since it was first passed in 1938.
In July of this year, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act (FSEA), by a vote of 283-142. This bill asks FDA to take a number of important steps to better safeguard our food supply. For instance, it requires FDA to dramatically increase its current once-a-decade track record of inspecting food facilities. The FSEA will also require companies that find contamination in the food production process to report that contamination to FDA.
But the House bill is not the end of the process. The Senate also has to pass a bill, and then the two bills – which may be quite different from each other – have to be reconciled. Leaders in the House and Senate appoint members from the relevant committees to come together in this temporary conference committee to work out the differences between the two bills. This final measure, which must be approved by both chambers again, is then sent to the President for signature. He can sign it into law or veto it.
With food safety reform, the Senate will likely pass its own version of reform, S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This bill was introduced earlier this year by Senator Richard Durbin and is being co-sponsored by nine other Senators, from both political parties. It must first be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee which has jurisdiction over such matters. This committee has been chaired by the late Senator Ted Kennedy—a new leader for it will have to be found in the coming weeks.
The HELP Committee, and then the whole Senate, will have to vote on S. 510 and then it will have to be reconciled with the House bill. We don’t expect any delaying tactics by opponents, but we will keep an eye on it. With a lot of hard work, we are optimistic that President Obama will have a strong food safety bill to sign before the end of the year.
Consumers Union will do all it can to help move this important measure through Congress. Too many victims of foodborne illness and their families have waited too long for food safety reform. Both the House and the Senate bills make important updates to our existing laws. Our goal is to see the strongest provisions from each bill make it into the final law. If you share the goal of a safer food system please click here and join us in the fight.