Senate Passes Bill To Help Prevent Food Borne Illnesses

Today, the United States approved the biggest overhaul to the nation’s food safety laws since the 1930s. By a bipartisan vote of 73-to-25 the new law would gives new authorities to the Food and Drug Administration, places new responsibilities on farmers and food companies to prevent contamination, and for the first time, sets safety standards for imported foods.
The Senate vote was one of the few pieces of legislation to receive bipartisan approval in years. The House of Representatives approved a more stringent version of the bill more than a year ago.
The legislation comes after a number of national outbreaks of food poisoning involving products such as eggs, peanuts and spinach in which thousands of people were sickened and more than a dozen died.
Leaders in the House of representatives have indicated that they would accept the Senate version of the bill. This would avoid the time consuming conference process and send the legislation to the President quickly.
Despite the strong bipartisan support among lawmakers and a coalition of major business and consumer groups, the legislation still drew sharp opposition.
Some tea party activists attacked the legislation as governmental overreaching. On his television program this month, talk show host Glenn Beck suggested that the measure was a government ruse to raise the price of meat and convert more consumers to vegetarianism.
The bill has also revealed a divide between local-food movements and major agriculture businesses. Small farmers concerned about the cost of new federal regulation initially opposed the bill and argued that since most cases of national illness are caused by large companies, small producers should be exempted from the standards.
In an effort to assuage these concerns, Sen Jon Tester, a Montana farmer, added an amendment that would exempt small farmers and those who sell directly to consumers at farmers markets and farm stands.
It is estimated that food borne illnesses affect one in four Americans and kill 5,000 each year. In addition, tainted food products have cost the food industry billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales and legal expenses.
The bill places greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to prevent contamination, which is a departure from the current system, which relies on government inspectors to catch contamination after the fact.
The measure also gives the FDA authority to recall food. As the law now stands, the FDA must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves.

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