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Dingell criticizes Senate for food safety standstill

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 23-Feb-2010

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) has criticized the Senate for stalling over food safety legislation that passed from committee in November with strong bipartisan support.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is currently awaiting a full Senate hearing after the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee gave the bill its unanimous approval more than three months ago. The House – of which Dingell is the longest-ever serving member – passed a similar bill in July, the Food Safety Enhancement Act.

Senate debate on health care reform and jobs has pushed the food safety legislation down the agenda in the past few months, but Dingell told Washington D.C.’s The Hill: “Unfortunately, even with bipartisan support, the Senate has been slow to act…We need the Senate to act as soon as possible so that we can get a bill to the president’s desk that will give the Food and Drug Administration the authorities and resources to address this real threat.”

If passed, the bill would require food companies to submit detailed food safety plans, give the FDA the power to order product recalls, and allow it greater access to company records.

The Senate version has proved to be less contentious than the companion bill that passed the House. In particular, there was disagreement over the House version’s stipulation that food manufacturers should pay $1,000 per facility to fund the measures – a fee that was slashed to $500 by the time the bill was passed. The Senate’s Food Safety Modernization Act does not specify how the FDA’s extended authority and increased inspections would be funded.

“The problems with our nation’s food supply won’t just go away,” Dingell told The Hill.

There is still no indication of when the bill will be back on the Senate’s agenda.

Calls to overhaul America’s food safety system intensified last year on the back of a spate of multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks. Support from food manufacturers also strengthened after the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products led to more than 700 illnesses and nine deaths, as well as one of the largest product recalls in US history, at an estimated cost of at least $1bn.

An estimated 76 million Americans are sickened as a result of foodborne illness each year, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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