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WASHINGTON - Food-safety legislation looked doomed last week but in a surprise move the U.S. Senate passed it by unanimous consent the evening of Dec. 19.

After several failed attempts to attach food safety to controversial fiscal 2011 funding bills, Senate Democrats attached it to HR 2751, Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, and passed it by unanimous consent. Now, the bill must be voted on by the House of Representatives, which reconvenes tomorrow, before wrapping up the lame-duck session. "Tonight we unanimously passed a measure to improve on our current food- safety system by giving the FDA the resources it needs to keep up with advances in food production and marketing, without unduly burdening farmers and food producers," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Dec. 19 after the Senate vote. The bill had passed the Senate earlier this month but because of a technical flaw had to be approved again. Negotiations with Senate Republicans cleared the path for the bill to move forward. “I look forward to standing with the President as he signs this important measure into law, and in so doing, giving Americans one of the best holiday gifts they can receive this year -- the assurance that the foods they are eating are safer,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a press statement.

The United Fresh Produce Association and other produce associations have been lobbying for federal food-safety legislation, but the bill includes language that would allow certain small producers to be exempt from federal food-safety requirements. “Overall the bill does a lot of good things but it unfortunately includes an amendment that will undermine a lot of the bill's good efforts,” predicted Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.