Beltway insiders are hearing more calls to pass the FDA food safety reform bill pending in the Senate. This week, The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, featured several Op-Eds which highlighted the bill’s bipartisan support and urged the Senate to act.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, penned an article yesterday emphasizing the broad, bipartisan support for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, a bill that would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) authority and capacity to regulate 80 percent of the food supply.

“Amid the rancorous partisanship that has marked the past year in the nation’s capital, a bipartisan effort to pass food safety legislation has been quietly taking shape,” wrote Smith DeWaal.

“While the healthcare negotiations have broken down, restarted, and now seem to be in limbo, efforts quiet but sure to upgrade the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety mandate are progressing steadily.”

“The last push for Senate action is near.  And that effort is evidence that Washington can sometimes work, albeit slowly,” she said.

There has been a lot of uncertainty over when the Senate will schedule the bill for a vote ever since it was unanimously voted out of committee in November.

The longest-serving member in the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), recently criticized the upper chamber for moving too slowly on the issue.

“Unfortunately, even with bipartisan support, the Senate has been slow to act,” Dingell told The Hill last week. “We need the Senate to act as soon as possible so that we can get a bill to the president’s desk that will give the Food and Drug Administration the authorities and resources to address this real threat.”

Smith DeWaal argued that the Senate should stop putting food safety issues on the back burner.

“It is urgent that that FDA food safety legislation, which could improve the safety of 80 percent of the food supply, not get pushed behind other pressing issues that are less likely to garner bipartisan support,” she said. “Passage of FDA food safety legislation this year would be a huge achievement for Congress and the administration.”

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee, also called for urgent action in his Op-Ed. “The Senate must act this year to restore consumer confidence and ensure a safe and abundant food supply.”

Dingell joined the chorus of opinion pieces, urging the Senate to schedule the bill for a vote.

“There is nothing more basic and necessary than protecting the food supply,” he wrote. “Without congressional action, it will only be a matter of time before we have another major food safety scare on our hands.”

Dingell said he understands his Senate colleagues “are a bit overwhelmed.”

“They are sitting on nearly 290 House-passed bills held up over there,” he said. “But I would argue this one must be acted on soon. We should not have to explain to a grieving family why something didn’t get done even though we knew there was a problem, but that is exactly what will happen if we fail to act.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee, which oversees the USDA and FDA budgets, also spoke up in favor of Senate action with an Op-Ed.

DeLauro went a step further and called for simplifying the food safety system by centralizing food safety activities into one agency.  Currently, 15 government agencies share jurisdiction.

“Each one of these overlapping jurisdictions represents a point of fracture in our food safety system, where unsafe food might well slip through the cracks,” wrote DeLauro. “It is time to revamp, consolidate, and streamline our food safety bureaucracy into a single, independent food safety agency.”

DeLauro has long advocated for a single food safety agency. Neither the food safety bill passed in the House or the pending Senate bill consolidate food safety regulation into a single agency.

Senate aides and consumer lobbyists are saying leadership could schedule a vote on S. 510 sometime in March, but the timing is still far from certain.