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The US House of Representatives yesterday approved by a vote of 283-142 the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, a measure that would be a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s food safety infrastructure.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a similar food safety bill still is in committee. President Barack Obama has pledged to sign food safety legislation into law when it arrives on his desk.

If it becomes law, the new food safety legislation would enhance the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall and quarantine product, to improve its inspection and traceability functions, and force manufacturers to keep better records. The provisions would be partially funded by a $500 annual fee on food producers.

Critics say that the bill is likely to increase the cost of food and centers too much power in Washington. But the tides were with supporters of the bill, coming as it did after a rash of contamination scares – spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, pistachios - that roiled the marketplace.

The bill had failed to pass earlier this week because of procedures in place at the time that required a two-thirds majority.

Leslie G. Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), released the following statement: “We commend the House for passing legislation that will strengthen food safety in America. Most important, it focuses on systems to prevent breaches in food safety to protect consumers … We urge the Senate to approve companion legislation quickly so the industry and government can take the actions required to enhance our nation’s food safety system.”

Pamela G. Bailey, president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), chimed in: ““House passage of The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 marks an important milestone. This legislation will strengthen our nation’s food safety net by placing prevention as the cornerstone of our nation’s food safety strategy and providing FDA with the resources and authorities it needs to adequately fulfill its food safety mission … We applaud the House for its vision and leadership in tackling this tough issue and urge the Senate to swiftly follow suit and pass its food safety bill as quickly as possible.”

And Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said, “United Fresh is gratified by the House passage of this landmark food safety legislation, which contains several important provisions designed to improve our nation’s food safety and help bolster consumer confidence in the food supply. United Fresh is largely supportive of the bill, which has received broad bipartisan support … There are still important issues that we will address with the Senate as it begins its work on food safety legislation later this year. We look forward to continued bipartisan support and industry cooperation to ensure passage of sound, scientific food safety legislation that can benefit all Americans.”
KC's View:
It will take some time to make this all work, and we shouldn't expect any sort of dramatic improvement short-term. But hopefully it won’t take too long to have impact on the incidents of negligence and even criminality that have created some of these contamination scares, and will start to rebuild confidence in the food supply.