The food safety bill pending in the Senate has hit another speed bump. S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, will not be brought to the floor next week, as was widely expected. Instead, the upper chamber will take up financial regulatory reform.

Senate-building-featured.jpgNot that S. 510 was going anywhere fast–the legislation has been stalled behind health care reform and other pressing priorities since it was unanimously voted out of committee in mid-November. The House approved a similar version of the bill in July. For the past several weeks, however, the plan had been to bring the food safety bill to the floor near the beginning of the current work period, as it has broad, bipartisan support and is expected to pass easily.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who introduced S. 510, told reporters yesterday that Democrats had rearranged the schedule and were looking to instead move a financial reform bill late next week. “We should move on financial regulatory reform as soon as it’s ready,” Durbin said, adding that he had requested a placeholder for food safety legislation on the calendar while the Senate worked on financial regulations.

A spokesman for Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told Food Safety News, “Chairman Harkin believes that passing this bill and modernizing our nation’s patchwork system is needed as soon as possible, and he knows that Leader Reid shares that commitment.  Clearly, there are a number of urgent priorities to address during this work period, including financial regulatory reform, but Chairman Harkin is confident that the bill will pass the Senate before we adjourn for the Memorial Day recess.”

The food safety bill will continue to compete with a busy legislative agenda. “We’ve got a range of issues–from a Supreme Court vacancy, a START treaty that I believe needs to be ratified, a host of other issues related to appointments–that we’re going to talk about and I’m going to be also obviously listening to congressional leaders about their priorities over the next several months,” Obama told congressional leaders yesterday.

Peter Hurley, a police officer from Oregon state, whose son four-year-old Jacob was sickened by Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter crackers in 2009, finds the change in schedule disheartening. “This affects every American, every day. Though financial reform also affects all of us, it’s important that this issue not continue to be put on the back burner.”

“To get this far, with bipartisan support, and to fall short… it’s frustrating,” said Hurley, who has testified before Congress and attended dozens of meetings with lawmakers to advocate for stronger food safety laws. “I know there are people who have been working on this for a decade–I can’t imagine their frustration.”


See recent Food Safety News coverage of S. 510:

Farmers Gain in Senate Food Safety Battle April 15, 2010

Senate Gears Up for Action Food Safety April 13, 2010

NC Farmers Take S.510 Concerns to Consumers April 5, 2010