WASHINGTON -- Just a day after the Senate passed food-safety reform, the
bill appears in jeopardy because of a procedural snafu that may block the
House from taking it up.
Yesterday, the Senate approved S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization
Act, by a 73 to 25 vote, and food-safety reform advocates had hopes the
House would approved the Senate version as early as today, hastening final
approval of the bill. The House had been waiting for the Senate to act since it
approved its version of food-safety reform in July 2009.
But last night, the story began to change.
The House Ways & Means Committee raised concerns that revenue-raising
provisions, including new reinspection and export certification fees, in S. 510
violated the rules requiring tax provisions to originate in the House. House
leaders plan to meet on the issue later tonight, but it could spell the end of
food-safety reform since Congress is likely to wrap up its lame duck session
in the next few weeks.
"I think the prognosis for food-safety reform is not very good," said Cathy
Enright, vice president of federal government affairs at Western Growers
The produce industry has its own beef with the bill.
It may be better to start over next year, Ms. Enright said, after S. 510 was
passed with an amendment that allows small producers to be exempt from
federal food-safety requirements.
“You can't have a federal system and allow a mosaic of a food-safety system,”
Ms. Enright argued. “It sends a terrible message to consumers and it sends a
terrible message to our trading partners.”
United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers Association and the
Produce Marketing Association have been urging Congress to work out
differences between the two bills in a conference committee after the Senate
agreed to adopt the Tester-Hagan amendment in the final bill yesterday.
The small producer exemption will undermine the credibility of a federal
food-safety system, said Robert Guenther of the United Fresh Produce
Association, who said that it would introduce complexity into an already
complex system. For example, buyers, including schools, may shy away from
buying locally grown produce if they are not covered under federal food-
Even if Congress can resolve the technical problems with the bill, lawmakers
will need to send it back to the Senate for approval.
Since S. 510 passed yesterday, Senate Republicans have said they would block
legislation from being taken up on the Senate floor unless the Senate acts on
tax cuts and spending bills.