Will The Food Safety Bill Make Our Meals Safer?

Almost a year and a half after the House passed a bill to toughen the nation's food safety rules, the Senate finally seems poised to take up the issue.

The Senate began debating the food safety bill Wednesday but the measure may be tangled up in jockeying and debate for days -- even weeks.

The bill would give the FDA the power to mandate food recalls. It would also allow the FDA to increase inspections of food producers, improve tracking of fruit and vegetable shipments and set stricter standards for food manufacturers to help prevent outbreaks of contamination.

As the Senate begins to debate a food safety bill, ABC News decided to check with some of those we have interviewed over the past few years while covering dozens of recalls of everything from soup to nuts. We asked for their opinion on the most important changes they hope will emerge from a food safety law. How will this make our meals safer? And what is it missing?

Here are some of their responses:

Caroline Smith DeWaal

Caroline Smith DeWaal

Director, Food Policy, Center for Science in Public Interest

"It will be a huge victory for consumers when it passes, and will pay off rapidly with better public health and economic protections."

"This historic legislation will modernize FDA's food safety system for the first time in 70 years. It will require all food processors to implement process control systems that can be checked during more frequent government inspections. With better internal controls and better oversight, the legislation will help to prevent contaminated foods from reaching the public. And when problems do occur, the legislation gives FDA important new tools, like mandatory recall authority, civil penalties, and pilot traceability programs, that will help reduce the public health burden on consumers."

"With respect to imported foods, we have been growing increasingly concerned that the US system was falling behind many other countries. While members of Congress like to say that we have 'the safest food supply in the world,' the growth in imported products in the last 20 years means consumers are increasingly reliant on FDA's understaffed and antiquated import approval systems. The fact that the European Union and many other countries have modernized their food systems and instituted rapid alert systems increased the risk that the US would become a dumping ground for products that couldn't get into those markets. Passage of the legislation is essential to ensure that this doesn't happen."

Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle

Professor, New York University

"I support passing S. 510 and I think it's a travesty that the Senate has been sitting on it so long (since July 2009). Truly shocking. The bill has bipartisan support but neither party wants the other to get credit for passing it. I'm not kidding -- everyone I talk to says that's the main reason it hasn't been passed yet."

"What it does is to give the FDA authority to require science-based food safety plans -- from farm to table -- to inspect, and to recall unsafe foods. It also authorizes increases in the number of inspectors. These are badly needed food safety measures."

"What it does not do is create a single food safety agency that combines the functions of USDA and FDA. This was considered politically unfeasible. Instead, fixing the FDA is step #1. Eventually, food safety advocates hope that step #2 will be to fix the USDA so the rules match, and then start working on the single agency."

Kathy Means

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