There are several reasons that we decided upon the Tester Amendment to the Food Safety Bill for episode 12 of 90 Second Summaries. First and foremost, the amendment is a significant one that is essential to understanding this piece of legislation (legislation we summarized in episode 7). Not only is it the most substantial difference between the Senate’s version of the bill and the House’s, but without it the future of the legislation itself would be unclear. Therefore, we think it is important that people understand how this amendment changes the bill.
Another significant influence in our decision was you. When we summarized the Food Safety Bill in episode 7 a number of viewers brought up the issue of protections for small farmers. It was clear to us that this amendment was worthy of a summary.
We expected this bill to get a cloture vote today, but they’re taking the week off and coming to it next Monday. Which makes sense, it’s not like they have a lot on their plate this lame duck session (other than this, DADT repeal, tax cut extensions, the DREAM Act and a new START Treaty, you know, minor stuff).
For Episode 7, we look ahead to next month’s lame duck session and preview a bill likely to be examined in the Senate in the first week back. The “food safety bill” enjoys strong bipartisan support and is likely to receive over 90 Senate votes if it gets that far, but is being blocked from consideration by Sen. Coburn for budgetary reasons.
Its fate at this point will be determined almost entirely by the amount of floor time Democratic leaders are willing to spend on it. But in case you’d like to nudge them one way or the other and want to learn more beforehand, here’s the skinny on S. 510, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
Sponsor: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Key cosponsors: Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY) Click here to download this summary (pdf)
Status: Motion to proceed to floor debate filed 9/29. Held up by Sen. Coburn. May be revisited in lame duck session.
House Companion: H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, passed the House in July 2009 by a 283-142 margin. Similar but not identical. The more direct, but still not identical, companion is H.R. 1332, Safe FEAST Act of 2009.
Purpose: Significant gaps exist in America’s food safety paradigm. We have witnessed numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in recent years, affecting items such as spinach, eggs, peanuts and pet food. According to Sen. Durbin, nearly 76 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses each year, hospitalizing 325,000 and killing 5,000. Yet the FDA lacks the authority and resources to adequately regulate the nation’s food supply given these new and daunting challenges.
Summary: This legislation would expand the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies to fortify the food safety framework. Particular new abilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Conduct more frequent inspections, including required annual inspections of high-risk facilities
• Set forth requirements for mandatory testing
• Order mandatory recalls after allowing responsible parties the opportunity to cease distribution voluntarily
• Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulations
• Access records to determine the source of an outbreak
• Produce more comprehensive tracking and data collection methods
• Establish standards and regulations, and issue guidance documents to ensure firms are aware of these standards
• Help state, local and tribal governments stay prepared to handle agriculture and food emergencies
• Ensure that imported products meet the same standards imposed upon domestically produced food
See the full CRS bill summary (link below) for further details.
Supporters: President Obama, Consumer Federation of America, Grocery Manufacturers Association, etc.
• Supporters view this legislation as a long overdue modernization of the nation’s food safety system, saving lives and averting the substantial economic costs resulting from food-borne illnesses.
Opposition: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, etc.
• Opponents see this as a costly and burdensome intrusion into the food industry, one that could put independent and organic producers out of business. Small and sustainable farms may be exempted from certain regulations in the version that ultimately reaches the floor, potentially mitigating their opposition.
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