Senate votes to proceed with food safety bill

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety United states senate

The Senate voted to move forward on the Food Safety Modernization Act on Wednesday, voting 74-25 to limit debate and proceed with the bill.

Its supporters needed at least 60 votes after Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) had objected that there was no provision for the legislation’s $1.4bn cost. The Senate will now proceed with up to 30 hours of debate on the bill before it comes up for passage, due to start at 9.30am EST on Thursday.

The Food Safety Modernization Act has been awaiting debate in the Senate since it passed unanimously through committee last November. A companion bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, was passed by the House in July 2009, but the Senate version has been held up by debate on other legislation, including health care reform.

If passed, it would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to order product recalls, give it greater access to company records, and require all food companies to keep detailed food safety plans.

President of the Grocery Manufacturers Association Pamela Bailey welcomed the vote.

She said in a statement: “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will provide FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation’s food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies. We urge the Senate to vote on this important, bipartisan bill as early as possible during the lame duck session."

The ‘lame duck’ session is the period of time when Congress meets after an election, but before the current Congress has reached the end of its constitutional term.


Although the bill has attracted strong support from much of the food industry, some small farm advocates have argued that not all businesses can afford to pay for extra regulation, claiming that local and state regulations are sufficient to monitor food safety for small food businesses.

An amendment to the bill introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and supported by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), would exempt farms and food producers that sell most of their products directly to consumers, restaurants, or retailers within state lines or within 400 miles, with annual sales of less than half a million dollars.

However, the United Fresh Produce Association has said it would withdraw its support for the bill if the amendment is included.

Its senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther said in a statement: “Consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. An effective food safety program in the U.S. is a shared responsibility of everyone…Congress needs to do its part by supporting a uniform food safety bill that will enhance food safety for citizens of this country and reject arbitrary exemptions that pick winners and losers.”

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