Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Sunday Surprise: Senate Passes Food Safety Bill

The food safety bill–S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act–which some had given up for dead, was revived late Sunday attached to a shell bill and passed unanimously just before the Senate adjourned for the day.

The bill, with the Tester/Hagan small farm exemption intact, now goes back to the House.  The action will likely put the food safety law on President Obama’s desk before Christmas.

“Yes, consumers, there is a Santa Claus!,” effused the Consumer Federation of America.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, a lead sponsor of the bill, called the vote “a critical victory” bringing the bill one step closer to completion.

“I look forward to standing with the President as he signs this important measure into law, and in so doing, giving Americans one of the best holiday gifts they can receive this year — the assurance that the foods they are eating are safer,” Harkin said.

Sunday’s Senate move came as a surprise, especially because no Republican objected to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s request for his colleagues to pass the food safety bill by unanimous consent.  

No one objected, not even Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Coburn, who almost single-handedly has tried to bump off the bill, had threatened to filibuster anything containing food safety, which would have prevented the Democrats from getting through the rest of their lame-duck session agenda. The question Sunday was why Coburn gave up.  A spokesman for the senator told the Washington Post he did not know why his boss relented.

Whatever the reason, the bipartisan support seemed almost miraculous, given that Reid’s success was not even predicted by his own staff earlier in the day.    

“Tonight we unanimously passed a measure to improve on our current food safety system by giving the FDA the resources it needs to keep up with advances in food production and marketing, without unduly burdening farmers and food producers,” Reid said in a statement.

The majority leader said this marks the first time in almost a century that the food safety system has been updated in such a broad manner.  He called it a “common-sense issue with broad bipartisan support.” 

The food safety bill has had a tortured life.  The House passed its version (H.R 2749) in July of 2009 by a vote of 283 to 142.  The Senate did not move on its version (S. 510) until last month after a compromise (the Tester/Hagan Amendment) was reached between small farmers, Big Ag and consumer groups.  The final vote was 73 to 25.

However, Section 107 of S. 510 contained a fee provision that the House Parliamentarian considered a tax in violation of the “Origination Clause” of the Constitution, which states that the House must initiate revenue measures.

To overcome the Senate’s procedural error, the House then appended S. 510 to the “Omnibus Spending Bill,” essentially the 2011 budget.  That bill was narrowly approved by a 212 to 206 vote, but when the Senate refused to take up the spending bill, the food safety legislation was left hanging — until Sunday evening.

To get the food safety bill back to the House without the constitutional flaw, the Senate used H.R. 2751 as a vehicle, amending it with the language of S. 510.  Ironically, H.R. 2751 was originally a House version of the “cash for clunkers” bill, a shell with just enough life in it for the Senate’s purpose.  Reid predicted the House will take up the measure Monday night or Tuesday.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, commended senators for “their persistence and cooperation,” and observed that the bill had seen more procedural “fits and starts than any other.”

With one step remaining before it reaches the president’s desk, Dingell said, “I am confident my colleagues in the House, both Democrats and Republican, will rise to the occasion.”

 

The bill’s goal is to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s powers to keep food safe by increasing inspections of food facilities, placing stricter standards on imported foods and giving the agency broader authority to order a recall.

As word of the bill’s new life got out, advocates expressed their relief.  Many were part of a coalition that had sent a letter Sunday to Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, asking them to act quickly to save the bill before the end of the session.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called it  ”a huge victory for consumers following a weekend cliffhanger,” and said both consumer and industry supporters had been bracing for bad news. “Senator Harkin, Senator Reid, and Senator McConnell are to be congratulated on their skill in making sure American families will enjoy greater protection and safer food in 2011 and beyond,” she said.

“After spending all last week in D.C. meeting with Senate and House leaders, I honestly thought the bill had no chance,” said Bill Marler, food safety attorney and publisher of Food Safety News.  ”I think it says something good about Democrats and Republicans this holiday season.  The process was not pretty, but politics was put aside for this and the safety of the U.S. food supply has been enhanced.”

Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, said, ”This is a wonderful day for consumers. This day will be especially important to families whose children have suffered lasting damage to their health, and families who have even lost a child, because of contaminated food. Many of them have worked hard for this bill to prevent others from having to go through a similar ordeal. This bill gives FDA essential tools like mandatory recall authority to insure that the food we eat is safe.”

© Food Safety News
  • Ben Mark

    facing the next huge recall made them move: The Kroger Co. is recalling select pet food packages from stores in 19 states fearing some of these products may contain aflatoxin, a toxic chemical byproduct that could be harmful to animals.

  • Tannim

    Too bad the amendment to HR 2475 STILL runs afoul of the House Parliamentarian’s finding.
    It needed to be amended in the HOUSE to be valid, NOT THE SENATE! Origination rules under the parliamentary rules of the Congress AND the Constitution include origination language to include new language in gut-and-amend bills, including this one.
    So, assuming that the Congress follows its own rules, we’re back to the same problem S510 has, unless they strike Section 107.
    Of course, since the bill is a giant dodo in the first place, it needs to die. Food safety is a STATES issue, not the Feds. The FDA and the USDA are NOT the consumer or small business owner’s friends.
    But the statists in DC simply want to use food as yet another means to implement corporatism, socialism and police powers that are anathema to proper constitutionally-limited government, consumer choice, and personal freedom and responsibility.
    They can take my garden, never. I refuse to poison myself with Big Agriculture’s GMOs and toxins. I will grow my own and grow it the right way.

  • Emily

    I believe they used HR 2751 – a cash-for-clunkers bill – not HR 2475, which deals with foreign affairs.

  • njohnson

    Well, the last time the Food Safety Modernization Act went back to the House, it was discovered that it contained an unconstitutional revenue-raising provision, a right not granted by the US Constitution to the Senate. Do you suppose that this time the House will discover some of the other unconstitutional provisions in it, such as the section that violates the Fourth Amendment.
    The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution requires every official requesting entry to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, and signed by a judge. The FSMA blatantly attempts to eliminate this protection against warrant-less search and seizure by giving the Secretary the right to search, seize and destroy private property with no signed warrant by a judge. According to this unconstitutional provision, all the Secretary needs in order to search, seize and destroy private property is a “reason to believe” rather than probable cause and a warrant.
    We’re being conditioned to accept warrant-less searches at airports, with TSA officials claiming they have the right to use technology to essentially strip-search and photograph innocent adults and the right to physically molest people of all ages. Now we’re being told that another federal agency must be allowed to violate our Fourth Amendment rights to keep us “safe.” But, understand this well: No one is safe when the rule of law is abandoned.
    Once again, it is necessary for the House to reject the FSMA on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

  • reader from Ohio

    Disappointing …there is another side to this bill..NOT GOOD NEWS for small farmers and supporters of locally grown farmers markets…This bill is driven by the unholy alliance we now have with big government and big corporations. I Suggest that Americans educate themselves by learning all they can including the conditions that refugees from Cuba flee from…. where the government has control of every chicken on every farm….
    The stories are hair raising and the truth is conditions are bad enough compel young men to risk their lives rowing to America! That should speak volumes…..We don’t need more government control in our lives….ditto’s to Tannim’s comments…I am saving seeds in protest!!!

  • Ben Mark

    You lucky guy or mam! You can afford having your own garden in an area where you can grow and raise (including meat) year round. Instead of building a Mosque at Ground Zero the should make gardens for the people in NY City. I just don’t see what they would grow at this time of the year. You must be from a different planet far away from any reality of this world.

  • Minkpuppy

    Aflatoxin is a NATURALLY OCCURING TOXIN not a “chemical by-product”. Aflatoxin is secreted by a fungus that’s found on moldy corn and grain, specifically Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Most likely, the aflatoxin found its way into the pet food through moldy corn meal which is a predominant ingredient in cheap pet foods. It’s not destroyed during the pet food production.
    Aflatoxin can cause liver cirrhosis and liver failure in animals. Humans have high tolerance to the effects but can still become ill, especially children. It can be found in grains, peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, chiles and spices.
    I try to avoid feeding my pets anything that has corn-meal or grain-meal as one of the primary ingredients. IMO, the number one ingredient in a high quality dog or cat food should be meat protein (not meat by-products or grains).

  • MultiWriter

    What a bunch of slanted fallderall this article is! Not ONE mention of why millions of people DON’T want this bill. It’s all, “Wooo! What a victory for the people!”
    That’s how the oil trusts played the media when they tricked the people into voting for the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. The wealthy, knowing that the poor and middle class would vote FOR anything that the Big Boys complained about, pulled the “Oh no, Br’er Bear! PLEASE don’t throw me into the brair patch!” card and begged the people NOT to vote for it because it would hurt big business. Big business was BEHIND the Fed and had control of it.
    If you want absolute control of the population, what would you want to have the right to control? Food and water anyone?
    Soylent Green anybody?
    That’s where this is heading.
    The powers that be are already polluting the water with fluoride and Lithium to dumb us down. They put toxic chemicals in the food to 1) leave us addicted and 2) kill us slowly (so we have to use more medical services). (read: Natural Cures they don’t want you to know about by Kevin Trudeau)
    Call your representative and tell him/her that you want a choice. S-510 doesn’t give you that choice. It’s the GMO way or the highway.
    Kill this bill as many times as it comes up…before it kills you.

  • Bill Blank

    A strong effort was made to protect the small farmer and farmers’ markets from undue and costly paperwork. The Tester/Hagan Amendment hopefully will do that, but this bill has been bounced around so often it remains to be seen exactly was will be final result, and if it will get pass the House. If it does pass, the real affect won’t be known for several months. We can only hope and pray that it will be fair to all parties concerned.

  • Nicole Johnson

    Well, the last time the Food Safety Modernization Act went back to the House, it was discovered that it contained an unconstitutional revenue-raising provision, a right not granted by the US Constitution to the Senate. Do you suppose that this time the House will discover some of the other unconstitutional provisions in it, such as the section that violates the Fourth Amendment.
    The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution requires every official requesting entry to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, and signed by a judge. The FSMA blatantly attempts to eliminate this protection against warrant-less search and seizure by giving the Secretary the right to search, seize and destroy private property with no signed warrant by a judge. According to this unconstitutional provision, all the Secretary needs in order to search, seize and destroy private property is a “reason to believe” rather than probable cause and a warrant.
    We’re being conditioned to accept warrant-less searches at airports, with TSA officials claiming they have the right to use technology to essentially strip-search and photograph innocent adults and the right to physically molest people of all ages. Now we’re being told that another federal agency must be allowed to violate our Fourth Amendment rights to keep us “safe.” But, understand this well: No one is safe when the rule of law is abandoned.
    Once again, it is necessary for the House to reject the FSMA on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

  • Michael Bulger

    Thank you to the Senate, for realizing that this bill is indeed supported widely and had, in fact, been approved by majority in both Houses of Congress. To the President and into law!

  • Nancy Zidonis

    YES!!! Make our food safer -

  • thelma taylor

    in reading the book SLAUGHTERHOUSE by Gail A Eisnitz you can see how our so-called Usda Protect us and how big companies and companies that have our congress owning dump their sick and dying animals in the food chain. They destroy every thing they get thier gredy and traitorist hands on I have been calling and doing everything in my power but they only hear the big money. Soon our country will be like the poorest and sickest nations of the world

  • Becca

    Food safety begins with independently tested crops whose seeds have altered DNA from soil and plant pathogens, other species. This is solely done to give the seed characteristics that Nature did not design. It is unnatural for corn and cotton to carry the DNA of soil virus Bacillus Thringensis. Yet, every cell of the new seed and plant contains this laboratory inserted DNA and no health data has been acquired on how this will affect people and animals who have not survived by eating this new technology.
    We are lab rats, except no one is keeping track. The youngest children and animals are having severe health problems like GERD from these new organisms. GERD may lead to esophageal cancer. This are new diseases which are showing up since these new “foods” have come to market.
    The sole purpose of shooting foreign DNA into seeds is to make the seeds into pesticides in the gut of insects, but they also replicate into the gut of animals and people.
    Or soy, canola, sugar beets and other crops with foreign bacterium, that create plants to tolerate incessant chemical pesticide spraying. These produce new allergies, and unknown consequences. The additional herbicides create super weeds, which need more toxic pest controls to eliminate because the chemical pest controls sterilize the soils, and poison the waters and fish.
    One cannot have healthy agriculture until genetic engineering is addressed, tested with peer reviewed studies and removed from the market until these processes take place.
    Without peer reviewed studies and tests, these crops are not proven safe.

  • jamie

    In response to Nicole Johnson, search and seizure protection does not extend to businesses under government oversight. Grow your own food and you’re protected. Crops for commercial sale get inspected and regulated. You STILL DO have the right to refuse entry without a warrant, however you will have no longer be allowed to continue doing business legally. This happens across many many businesses. Think restaurants and the Health Dept for one.