House Passes Food Safety Bill
Measure to improve FDA wins on second try

By Martin H. Bosworth

July 31, 2009
The House of Representatives voted 283-142 to pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (aka H.R. 2749), designed to improve the Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) ability to police food suppliers and processors for signs of foodborne illnesses and unsafe practices.
The bill was originally introduced on June 29, but failed on a vote of 280-150 as the rules required a two-thirds majority for passage. The bill was reintroduced today only requiring a simple majority to pass the chamber.
229 Democrats and 54 Republicans voted to pass the bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called "strong legislation that will protect lives and prevent illness."
"This bipartisan, landmark bill will fundamentally change the way we protect public health against such outbreaks and update our federal food safety laws to keep pace with the changes in our food production and processing methods," Pelosi said. "It provides the FDA better access to the records of food producers and manufacturers, without having to wait for an outbreak of food-borne illness. And it strengthens penalties imposed on food facilities that fail to comply with safety requirements."
Under the terms of the legislation, the FDA's proposed powers include creating a registry of food producers and importers that would be updated regularly, the ability to quarantine potentially unsafe food products from entering particular geographic areas, and levying a fee of $500 on food facilities to fund the new oversight and investigation procedures.
Another provision requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to commission a study on the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA), particularly the potential risks of including the chemical in food and beverage containers, and to report back to Congress on its findings.
The bill was the subject of contentious debate in the House. Opponents painted the bill as a move by the government to tell farmers how to conduct their business, and that the $500 fees--originally set at $1,000, but later reduced--were still too onerous for small farmers.
Supporters countered that the string of foodborne illnesses and viral outbreaks Americans have suffered from in recent years could have been prevented with better enforcement and earlier detection of any unsafe products, and that the relevant agencies would work with individual farmers and producers as needed to avoid any hardships.
Jean Halloran, Consumers' Union's campaign director for food safety, said, "This is a major milestone towards making our food safer and repairing our badly broken food-safety system. Consumers want to trust that the food they eat-no matter where it comes from-won't harm them...This bill will go a long way to prevent a repeat of deadly contaminations like the salmonella-laced peanut butter that caused hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths earlier this year.”
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