Obama Presses Senate on Food Safety Bill

President Obama yesterday gently reminded the U.S. Senate that food safety reform is still on their agenda, and that Senators may want to pass legislation in order to expand protections for the food supply.

“Today, I thank the House for its work and support efforts in the Senate to pass S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,” Obama said in a statement. “The bill addresses longstanding challenges in the food safety and defense system by promoting a prevention-oriented approach to the safety of our food supply and provides the Federal Government with the appropriate tools to accomplish its core food safety goals.”

Among other reforms, the bill would allow the Food and Drug Administration to order mandatory recalls of tainted food products (a power it does not currently possess) and implement a program to collect fees from certain food facilities to fund increased safety inspections. It would also require the FDA to set new standards aimed at preventing contamination of fresh produce.

The bill has been on the Senate calendar since the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee reported the bill in November 2009. As Obama noted, the bill has bipartisan support and, except for a few contentious provisions, is pretty much a political no-brainer – it’s hard to be opposed to food safety.

But the bill continues to be demoted below other priorities, most recently a bill reforming financial regulation. Advocates hope the Senate will take up the bill before breaking for summer vacation (probably at the end of the first week in August); but other issues, including Elena Kagen’s nomination to the Supreme Court and extending unemployment insurance, may continue to relegate food safety reform to the second-tier of Senate priorities.

Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit group working toward successful passage of the bill, echoed Obama’s call to action in the Senate: “The President has urged action. The House has already acted. The American people overwhelmingly support a strong new food safety law that will reduce foodborne illness. Senators Reid and McConnell should get on board and schedule S. 510 for the floor next week.”

In his statement, Obama also touted the work stemming from his Food Safety Working Group created in March 2009. Among the accomplishments, “My Administration has taken steps to reduce the prevalence of E. coli, implemented new standards to reduce exposure to Campylobacter, and issued a rule to control Salmonella contamination,” Obama said.




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