The food safety legislation that was stalled at the end of November due to a tax glitch was unanimously approved by the Senate this past Sunday evening. The bill is now on its way to the House, where it is expected to pass. Once President Obama signs the legislation, the government will have the authority to set and enforce safety standards for food manufacturers and farmers. All whole and processed foods except meat, poultry and some egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be affected.
The food safety measure was passed by the House more than year ago and then cleared the Senate three weeks ago by a vote of 73 to 25. However, a section in the Senate version appeared to violate a tax provision, thus nullifying the Senate vote.
House Democrats tried unsuccessfully to attach the food safety measure to a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, but that bill died after Republicans objected to earmarks in the legislation.
Late Sunday, Senate Democrats were weighing whether to attach the food safety language to other measures expected to be brought to the Senate floor before the Christmas recess. But unexpectedly, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) didn’t make good on his threats to filibuster any measure that included food safety, and the legislation passed.
Instead of using government inspectors to uncover food contamination, the food safety legislation requires manufacturers and farmers to put into place a system to track and trace food products, ideally to prevent contamination and allow for quick recall. This tracking system will provide data available to the FDA for inspection. Additionally, the bill requires importers to verify that products grown and processed overseas meet U.S. safety standards.
The bill is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, including the expense of hiring 2,000 new FDA inspectors. However, it can save lives and prevent sickness due to contaminated food products, and save businesses billions of dollars in lost sales and recall expenses.