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WASHINGTON — Food safety legislation, left for dead several times over the last year, passed the House of Representatives by a 215 to 144 vote Dec. 21, clearing the way for President Obama to sign it into law.

In a surprise move, Senate Democrats resuscitated the bill Dec. 19 by attaching it to HR 2751, the Consumer Assistance to Recycle & Save Act, and passed it by unanimous consent. After a 40-minute debate, the House approved it.

But the House vote on Tuesday came after Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), who will take the helm of the House Agriculture Committee in January, said he opposed the bill. He called it a product of a flawed process because the bill would allow small facilities and farms to bypass federal food-safety requirements.

While intended to shield small companies from burdensome paperwork, the bill will create another tier of regulations that will confuse consumers, he said, and it will force the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to exempt small companies in other countries from meeting federal food-safety rules.

Food manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups praised Congress for passing the landmark bill. "Over the past two days, the Senate and the House have each come together in bipartisan fashion to do the right thing: strengthen and modernize America's food-safety system and help restore the public’s faith in the safety and security of the food supply," said Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, one of the industry groups that has been pushing for federal food-safety legislation.

To the United Fresh Produce Association, however, the bill’s passage is still a mixed bag. “The legislation passed today on Capitol Hill ensures a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA, will be integrated into the food-safety framework moving forward,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, said in a Dec. 21 press statement.

“The good in this bill, however, is still accompanied by the bad, and the Food Safety Modernization Act still contains an amendment from Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina that threatens the health and well-being of a nation of consumers by exempting some producers and processors based only on the size of their business, their geographic location or to whom they sell their products,” Mr. Guenther added.