Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a long-time advocate for reforming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said yesterday that Senate legislation to do just that will likely have to wait until next year.

There has been much speculation about the timing of the Senate’s version of legislation to increase FDA’s authority and mandate to regulate the food supply, after the House passed a similar measure in July. Most consumer and industry groups in favor of FDA reform are still hopeful that the Senate will pass the bill after health care reform and before the holiday recess. 

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DeLauro made it clear yesterday that she foresees a slower outlook for the Senate bill.

“My understanding is that the Senate will not take up food safety until next year. Given the way that health care and the economy are now drawing all the air,” said DeLauro before a diverse group of food safety stakeholders at the Global Food Safety Policy Forum on the Hill.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who followed DeLauro’s speech with remarks on the details of the legislation, indicated she thought there may still be an opportunity to move the bill before winter recess, noting that there has been a “tremendous commitment” from leadership to move the bill when possible.

Bill Marler, a leading food safety attorney, who has–along with CSPI and and the larger Make Our Food Safe Coalition–been prodding Congress to enact stronger food laws, reacted to the news on Senate timing with frustration.

“My clients who have walked the halls of Congress, testified about their illness of their children of the death of a loved one, cannot understand the delay on the FDA reform bill,” said Marler.

“Frankly, neither can I,” he added.  “Senator Reid Promised the family of E. coli victim Linda Rivera that this legislation would move. The is currently sitting in committee as she remains on a ventilator in the hospital where she has been since May 1st.”

DeLauro sees more to be done

As the bill remains in committee in the Senate, DeLauro emphasized that she believes there is much to be done in the meantime. 

“While our efforts for the food safety bill have focused mainly on the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, we all know that it is equally important to address meat and poultry products under the United States Department of Agriculture, under their jurisdiction–especially as it relates to imported goods.

DeLauro made it clear to the audience that she views the bill moving through Congress as a starting point for making more systemic reforms to the food regulatory system.

According to DeLauro, the pending legislation is “a good first step toward a more comprehensive reform of our food system.” 

“Thats why it’s really critical that they United States Senate, in these offices here, pass a strong bill, so that we do not end up with a weakened product when both the House and the Senate come together for conference on this legislation,” added DeLauro.

Pictured: Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) giving remarks at the Global Food Safety Policy Forum on October 14, 2009. Photo by Helena Bottemiller.