Senate Votes Tonight on Most Sweeping Food Safety Changes in Seven Decades

Senate Votes Tonight on Most Sweeping Food Safety Changes in Seven Decades

Alisa Opar
Published: 11/29/2010


Photo: Photo by Stephen Ausmus/ARS USDA

Tonight the Senate is scheduled to vote on S510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation would give the FDA the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli, recall contaminated food, and hold imported food to the same standard as domestic—powers the agency currently lacks.

“The agency would finally have the resources and authority to prevent food safety problems, rather than respond only after people have become ill,” Eric Schlosser, producer of the documentary Food, Inc., and Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece yesterday. “The bill would also require more frequent inspections of large-scale, high-risk food-production plants.”
 
Schlosser and Pollan don’t believe the bill is perfect, but argue that it will greatly benefit consumers without harming small farmers or local food producers.
 
From the op-ed piece:
 
Last summer, when thousands of people were infected with salmonella from filthy, vermin-infested henhouses in Iowa, Americans were outraged to learn that the F.D.A. had never conducted a food safety inspection at these huge operations that produce billions of eggs a year. The new rules might have kept those people—mainly small children and the elderly—from getting sick.
 
The law would also help to protect Americans from unsafe food produced overseas: for the first time, imported foods would be subject to the same standards as those made in the United  States.
 
You would think that such reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of the American people would have long since sailed through Congress. But after being passed by the House of Representatives more than a year ago with strong bipartisan support, the legislation has been stuck in the Senate. One sticking point was the fear among small farmers and producers that the new regulations would be too costly—and the counter-fear among consumer groups that allowing any exemptions for small-scale agriculture might threaten public health.
 
Those legitimate concerns have been addressed in an amendment, added by Senator Jon Tester of Montana, that recently was endorsed by a coalition of sustainable agriculture and consumer groups. But now that common sense has prevailed, the bill is under fierce attack from critics—egged on by Glenn Beck and various Tea Partyers, including some in the local food movement—who are playing fast and loose with the facts.
 
Click here to continue reading the op-ed piece. 
 
Despite the opposition, all signs point to passage, writes Helena Bottemiller at Food Safety News, who has been closely following the act.
 
This is the first overhaul of the food safety regulatory system seven decades, and an important opportunity to modernize the regulations. There’s still time to let your Senators know where you stand. Send an email today.
 
The vote on the first of four amendments is expected to begin around 6:30pm EST. Watch online on C-SPAN, or tune into C-SPAN 2 on TV.