The Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) this week. The measure, which passed 73-25, would substantially overhaul FDA’s oversight and regulation of food safety by increasing its resources, inspection power and field staff. The bill only covers food within FDA’s jurisdiction and doesn’t regulate meat, poultry or shelled eggs, which are the responsibility of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The bill includes an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) to limit applicability of large portions of the bill to firms selling less than $500,000 worth of food each year. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed opposition to the measure because of that amendment, saying that “basing exemptions on size, location and proximity to the market sets a dangerous precedent for our nation’s safety system.”

Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauded the Senate measure’s lack of “one-size-fits-all” regulations, which it said would “create barriers to emerging local and regional food and agricultural systems.”

But Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy, expressed disappointment in the measure’s “egregious loopholes.”

“Unfortunately, instead of adhering to a science- and risk-based approach that was consistently the foundation of the underlying bill, the Senate has chosen to include a provision that will exempt certain segments of the food industry based on the size of operation, geographic location and customer base. This provision creates a gaping hole in the ability of consumers to trust the safety of all foods in the commercial marketplace,” he says.

The House passed a similar bill (Food Safety Enhancement Act – HR 2749), more than a year ago, with the biggest difference between the two measures being funding. The House bill calls for user fees while the Senate bill would be funded from the general Treasury funds. With the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress winding down, some expect the House to pass the Senate's bill in place of its own before adjourning for the year. President Obama has called on the House for quick action.
-- Joe Roybal