S01E07: S. 510, FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

For Episode 7, we look ahead to next month’s lame duck session and preview a bill likely to be examined in the Senate in the first week back. The “food safety bill” enjoys strong bipartisan support and is likely to receive over 90 Senate votes if it gets that far, but is being blocked from consideration by Sen. Coburn for budgetary reasons.

Its fate at this point will be determined almost entirely by the amount of floor time Democratic leaders are willing to spend on it. But in case you’d like to nudge them one way or the other and want to learn more beforehand, here’s the skinny on S. 510, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

One-page summary below the fold…

S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
Introduced 3/3/2009
Sponsor: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Key cosponsors: Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Click here to download this summary (pdf)

Cosponsors: 20 (12 Democrats, 8 Republicans). Full list at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:SN00510:@@@P

Status: Motion to proceed to floor debate filed 9/29. Held up by Sen. Coburn. May be revisited in lame duck session.
House Companion: H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, passed the House in July 2009 by a 283-142 margin. Similar but not identical. The more direct, but still not identical, companion is H.R. 1332, Safe FEAST Act of 2009.

Purpose: Significant gaps exist in America’s food safety paradigm. We have witnessed numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in recent years, affecting items such as spinach, eggs, peanuts and pet food. According to Sen. Durbin, nearly 76 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses each year, hospitalizing 325,000 and killing 5,000. Yet the FDA lacks the authority and resources to adequately regulate the nation’s food supply given these new and daunting challenges.

Summary: This legislation would expand the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies to fortify the food safety framework. Particular new abilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Conduct more frequent inspections, including required annual inspections of high-risk facilities
• Set forth requirements for mandatory testing
• Order mandatory recalls after allowing responsible parties the opportunity to cease distribution voluntarily
• Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulations
• Access records to determine the source of an outbreak
• Produce more comprehensive tracking and data collection methods
• Establish standards and regulations, and issue guidance documents to ensure firms are aware of these standards
• Help state, local and tribal governments stay prepared to handle agriculture and food emergencies
• Ensure that imported products meet the same standards imposed upon domestically produced food

See the full CRS bill summary (link below) for further details.

The recently released manager’s amendment contains a number of added amendments, mostly meant to lessen the burden on small farms, processors and wholesalers. Details at http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/senate-food-safety-bill/

CBO Score: Estimated cost of $1.4 billion over the 2011-2015 period.
Full review: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/117xx/doc11794/s510.pdf

Supporters: President Obama, Consumer Federation of America, Grocery Manufacturers Association, etc.

• Supporters view this legislation as a long overdue modernization of the nation’s food safety system, saving lives and averting the substantial economic costs resulting from food-borne illnesses.

Opposition: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, etc.

• Opponents see this as a costly and burdensome intrusion into the food industry, one that could put independent and organic producers out of business. Small and sustainable farms may be exempted from certain regulations in the version that ultimately reaches the floor, potentially mitigating their opposition.

Further links
Full bill text (as amended by Harkin substitute): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s111-510
Official CRS summary: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-510&tab=summary
Short summary from Sen. Durbin’s office: http://durbin.senate.gov/issues/leg_foodsafety.cfm
Article on Obama advocacy efforts for this legislation: http://www.ombwatch.org/node/11123
Sen. Coburn’s explanation of opposition: http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2010/9/detailed-concerns-with-s-510-the-fda-food-safety-modernization-act-of-2010

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