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Congress may act on stalled bills during lame-duck session

by Joan Murphy | October 11, 2010
WASHINGTON — Legislation to revamp the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's food-safety programs and to improve school lunches are just two issues Congress will be debating when it returns Nov. 15 after mid-term elections.

But these bills — top-shelf issues for the produce industry — will have to compete with more than a dozen other legislative priorities for floor time during what could be a polarized lame-duck session that may follow a power-shift to a Republican-controlled Congress.

After two failed attempts to consider food-safety legislation on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture motion for S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, with hopes to move ahead with the bill during the lame-duck session. Senate Democrats tried to bring S. 510 to the Senate floor under unanimous consent, but both times were shot down by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who brought up a litany of criticisms about the bill’s scope and cost.

The story wasn’t much better for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 3307). Groups such as the United Fresh Produce Association worked with child nutrition advocates during last-minute negotiations to convince the House to pass the Senate version of the child nutrition bill before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

The House of Representatives did not act on the child nutrition reauthorization bill, although funding for the program was extended until December in a stop-gap government spending bill.

"We were very disappointed it didn’t go to a vote last week," said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh. “We’re not giving up. We’re working very hard to get it to the floor.”

The bill would increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by six cents to provide children with healthier meals consistent with the dietary guidelines. It would mandate national nutrition standards for all foods sold at schools that are likely to include larger servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“We can no longer afford to voice our concerns about rising rates of childhood obesity and the need to promote healthier lifestyles at school without investing in the programs that reach children in their school cafeterias each day,” School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, who is state director of the Georgia Department of Education, School Nutrition Division, said in a Sept. 30 statement. “It is imperative that Congress and the administration work together to pass a strong, improved child nutrition reauthorization bill.” While the White House pushed for the bill as a staple of first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative, it hit a last-minute snag.

More than 100 House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) protesting the $4.5 billion Senate child nutrition bill because it would pay for the program by trimming money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Members of the House have to realize that the Senate-passed measure is the only one ready to go, said Ms. DiSogra, who explained that if the House passes its own bill, the Senate may not agree to it and the clock would run out.