Senate Votes for FDA Food Safety Overhaul

Senate passes legislation to allow FDA stronger food safety oversight.

ByABC News
December 1, 2010, 8:12 AM

Dec. 1, 2010— -- The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for a wide-range overhaul of the nation's food safety system. The $1.4 billion food safety bill would give greater oversight to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to handle such crises as the recent recalls of tainted eggs, spinach and peanut butter.

Among the provisions of the bill, the agency would be allowed to order a mandatory recall of tainted foods and set safety standards for raw produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. The agency would also increase inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities.

An estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, and 5,700 die from food-related disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, the FDA can only negotiate with businesses to order voluntary recalls. But now, the FDA would be allowed to suspend firms' selling contaminated food. The agency could provide a one-page summary of recall that grocery stores would be required to post visibly throughout their stores, including at cash registers and shelves where the product is sold.

The FDA would create produce safety regulations for producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables, including raw foods such as spinach, which has been a source of recalls since 2006.

The FDA currently oversees about 80 percent of the nation's food supply, including seafood, dairy products and canned foods. But the legislation does not mention provisions regarding meat and poultry, which are overseen by the U.S Department of Agriculture.

"After a hundred years of inaction, this is an important step forward. But we must take the next step to safeguard meat and poultry," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who wrote part of the Senate bill.

A separate version of the food safety bill passed in the House in late 2009. And although the Senate version of the bill, named the Food Safety Modernization Act, received bipartisan support, many top Democrats fear the measure might not pass if given too much time. But House leaders indicated they would consider passing the Senate version of the bill, which would bypass the time needed to integrate the two bills.