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Food Safety News

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Takeover May Cool House Passion for Food Safety

Full-blown hearings before Congress’s most powerful investigative panel–like those held after the nationwide spinach, peanut, and egg outbreaks, complete with victim testimony and the occasional food-industry executive citing his Fifth Amendment rights—will still take place after Tuesday’s elections.

Just not so often.

Food safety enjoys bipartisan support, but had the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and its effective Subcommittee on Investigations not been in Democratic Party hands during the past four years, food reform would not have gotten this far.

Now that’s over as Republicans took back what they needed to resume control of the people’s House, and then some.

On the heels of one national foodborne illness outbreak after another, the House on July 30, 2009 was able to pass HB 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act sponsored by Michigan Rep. John Dingell.

Perhaps indicative of the suffering Democrats were experiencing Tuesday night, Dingell, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, was hanging on to a narrow lead against Robert Steele, his challenger.

The 2009 vote on the food safety bill was 283-142, and included 54 Republicans.

A companion bill in the Senate has yet to see a vote on the Senate floor, an action Democrats have left to the lame-duck session of Congress that they will still control.

While that drama plays out, Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s colleagues will likely restore him to the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post he held from 2004-2006.

As chairman, Barton was well known for his expertise in energy.  He is more likely to spend the committee’s time and considerable power on such things as indecency in public airwaves rather than pathogens in fresh produce.

Part of the reason the House Energy and Commerce Committee was able to focus on a food safety bill to lift the U.S. Food and Drug Administration into the 21st century was that the House Agriculture Committee allowed it to happen.

Republican takeover of the House means that the new chairman of the Ag Committee is Frank Lucas, who crushed his opponent in Oklahoma.  He takes over the Ag Committee from the mild-mannered Colin Peterson, D-MN.

Lucas is an Oklahoma State University graduate with a degree in Ag Economics.  With a district of 32 Oklahoma counties, Lucas has to represent a wide band of Ag interests.

UPDATE:  Because of GOP term limit rules, Rep. Barton will require a waiver from his caucus if he to again Chair the Energy & Commerce Committee.

© Food Safety News
  • An alternate way of characterizing the change due the election is that we have the opportunity to find out if Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) will “walk his talk” about the need for food safety hearings that will hold both the FDA and FSIS accountable for fulfilling their jobs.
    Sen. Coburn won re-election yesterday with 70.5% of the vote. When he ran the first time 6 years ago, he promised to step down after 2 terms. As a candidate for the US House 14 years ago, he made a promise to only serve 3 terms and then did; there is every reason to believe that this is his last term in the Senate. Therefore, he has no electoral restraints on showing his true colors.
    As you pointed out, fellow Oklahoman, Frank Lewis’s, becoming the new chair of the House Ag Committee gives Dr. Coburn a great opportunity advocate for the need for substantive food safety hearings instead of the parliamentary-style showboating that occurred in the recent House hearing on Wright County Egg
    On the Senate side, the HELP Committee of which Dr. Coburn is a member has clear oversight authority over the FDA. It’s continuing Chair, Tom Harkin of IA, would be wise to note that the other Senator from IA, Chuck Grassley, won re-election yesterday with 64.5% of the vote. Harkin could walk his talk about the bi-partisan nature of S 510 by holding truly bi-partisan food safety investigative hearings.
    It seems to me that FSN would serve food safety better by urging Dr. Coburn to “walk his talk” than making what could become self-fulfilling prophecies.

  • It is more likely that the House bill, if it is reintroduced, will look more like S 510, especially in the enforcement area. It is also very doubtful that Rep. Joe Barton will be the new chair of the E&C Committee. Look for Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan to move into that position.

  • An alternate way of characterizing the change due the election is that we have the opportunity to find out if Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) will “walk his talk” about the need for food safety hearings that will hold both the FDA and FSIS accountable for fulfilling their jobs.
    Sen. Coburn won re-election yesterday with 70.5% of the vote. When he ran the first time 6 years ago, he promised to step down after 2 terms. As a candidate for the US House 14 years ago, he made a promise to only serve 3 terms and then did; there is every reason to believe that this is his last term in the Senate. Therefore, he has no electoral restraints on showing his true colors.
    As you pointed out, fellow Oklahoman, Frank Lewis’s, becoming the new chair of the House Ag Committee gives Dr. Coburn a great opportunity advocate for the need for substantive food safety hearings instead of the parliamentary-style showboating that occurred in the recent House hearing on Wright County Egg
    On the Senate side, the HELP Committee of which Dr. Coburn is a member has clear oversight authority over the FDA. It’s continuing Chair, Tom Harkin of IA, would be wise to note that the other Senator from IA, Chuck Grassley, won re-election yesterday with 64.5% of the vote. Harkin could walk his talk about the bi-partisan nature of S 510 by holding truly bi-partisan food safety investigative hearings.
    It seems to me that FSN would serve food safety better by urging Dr. Coburn to “walk his talk” than making what could become self-fulfilling prophecies.