The debates over whether to grant small farm exemptions or ban bisphenol-A from some products are likely to follow the beleaguered food safety bill if it is brought to a vote during the Senate’s lame duck session, according to sources on Capitol Hill.
“Assuming we get cloture on the motion to proceed, the bill will be open to all germane-post-cloture amendments,” said Andrea Helling, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in an email response to Food Safety News.
Tester’s amendment, which aims to lessen the regulatory impact of the bill on small farms and food producers, has drawn wide support in the sustainable agriculture community and opposition from food safety experts and the big players in the food and ag industry.
“Senator Tester will push for his amendment to be accepted but welcomes a debate and a vote on it,” added Helling. Sen. Tester said last week he believes his amendment will ultimately be adopted.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) amendment that would ban bisphenol-A, or BPA, a controversial chemical used in plastics, from baby bottles and infant formula containers is equally, if not more, controversial and will likely be brought to the floor if the food safety bill is brought up after the mid-term elections.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which has been stalled in the Senate for over a year, passed the House in July 2009. It inched forward last week as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the measure to get around Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) objection to the bill.
Coburn insists the bill’s $1.4 billion price tag should be offset in the authorizing language and that the legislation should address the lack of coordination between the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, the two primary agencies charged with overseeing the U.S. food supply.
With cloture, a procedural move to limit debate, the bill may be one of the first bills up for consideration in November when Congress reconvenes after the election, which some predict will result in substantial gains for Republicans.
Though food safety will compete with a variety of high profile issues, including a defense authorization bill and whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, the measure’s broad bipartisan support could make it an attractive option for Democrat leadership.
“Relatively uncontroversial measures probably stand a good chance, but it would be tough to pass items on which there is substantial disagreement,” said Jack Pitney, an American politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the committee that considered the food safety bill, believes he has over 90 votes for the measure, but the BPA and Tester amendments could complicate the debate, especially if Democrats weather substantial losses in the election.
“If Republicans win majorities–or if they just come close–they will use every procedural device to keep Democrats from passing legislation that would fail in January. And many Democrats would be reluctant to move such measures,” added Pitney. “Some of them will have suffered repudiation by the voters, and others will have just survived near-political-death experiences.”
The Grocery Manufacturers Association and Chamber of Commerce remain vehemently opposed to a legislative BPA ban and have threatened to pull their support for the food safety bill if Feinstein’s amendment is part of final package.
The United Fresh Produce Association remains opposed to the Tester amendment or any exemptions for farms based on size. Several consumer groups are also opposed to blanket exemptions, but some have recently hinted they won’t actively oppose the Tester amendment.