Senate aims for action on food safety bill Nov 29

Nov 19, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Further action on the major food safety bill in the Senate has been postponed until the lawmakers return from their Thanksgiving week recess, with voting on amendments and the final bill scheduled for Nov 29.

"We should be able to complete that very, very important bill," Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this morning on the Senate floor in announcing plans to take up the amendments in an evening session on Nov 29.

A "unanimous consent agreement" approved by the Senate last night lays out plans for dealing with several amendments and says how much time can be devoted to them. Reid said the agreement eliminated the need to have "multiple votes over the weekend."

The bill would authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order food recalls, provide for more frequent food facility inspections, and give the agency better access to food facility records. It also would require food establishments to analyze their contamination risks and take preventive steps, and it would increase regulation of imported food. The legislation also includes some provisions to help state and local health agencies improve their food safety efforts.

The House passed a similar comprehensive food safety bill last year. If the Senate approves its bill before this Congress ends in December, the measure will also require approval by the House, or else the House and Senate will have to come up with a compromise that both can support. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said yesterday that House leaders have promised to accept the Senate version if it passes with bipartisan support.

The consent agreement for the Nov 29 session calls for starting with a vote to cut off further debate on the Harkin amendment, which is a "manager's package" of amendments and other changes to the bill, according to Max Gleischman, press aide to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the bill's chief sponsor. The package includes an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., which exempts small farms and businesses from some of the new requirements in the bill, said Gleischman, who supplied a copy of the agreement.

If that a cloture vote on the manager's package succeeds, the agreement calls for providing time to debate four individual amendments. A total of 4 hours is allocated for the two amendments proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. One of these would completely overhaul the bill, while the other would ban all funding "earmarks" for the next 3 years. Tester argued that the existing bill's costs would outweigh its benefits.

The other two amendments, offered by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., get 30 minutes each, according to the agreement. Gleischman said those amendments are unrelated to food safety.

After the amendments are dealt with, the Senate will proceed to agreement on the Harkin amendment and then to a vote on final passage of the bill, according to the agreement.

See also:

Nov 18 CIDRAP News story "Outlook unclear as Senate debates food safety bill"

Nov 17 CIDRAP News story "Senate takes up long-stalled food safety bill"

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