Senate finally moves to vote on food-safety bill

Brett Michael Dykes

The recent spate of contaminated-food recalls in the United States appears to be opening the door for wider regulatory control over the industry by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Indeed, the issue has furnished one of the few bipartisan openings in the recently convened lame-duck Congress. Today, a group of Senate Republicans crossed the aisle to break a filibuster, thereby allowing debate to proceed on a long-stalled food-safety bill that would finally provide the FDA with the power to issue mandatory food recalls.

The bill would also allow the FDA to conduct more frequent inspections of food producers, outfitting agency inspectors with more authority to track fruit and vegetable shipments — and to remove contaminated goods from the nation's food supply.

Congressional Democrats have long sought a way to expand the FDA's food-safety oversight, since under the present system, the Department of Agriculture, which has a less expansive regulatory mandate, handles food recalls. But this latest bill has gained traction in part because the food industry itself has supported more aggressive regulation, looking to undo some of the damage that setbacks such as this summer's enormous egg recall have done to the industry's image.

"The food industry wants to raise the bar for our entire sector," Scott Faber, the vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told the Wall Street Journal. "Recent outbreaks [of food-borne illness] have really reinforced the need to build a stronger partner at FDA for our sector."

Less surprisingly, consumer advocates and food-safety activists have also joined forces behind the bill. Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser — two bestselling authors on food issues — called the measure "the most important food-safety legislation in a generation" in a joint statement.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives a year and half ago but has languished in the Senate ever since.

(Photo:  AP/Susan Walsh)