Food safety bill fix headed for Senate

Dec 9, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Landmark food safety legislation cleared another hurdle yesterday evening when the US House of Representatives passed a massive funding bill that includes a version of the legislation that fixes an error in the Senate's recently passed food safety bill.

Yesterday morning House Democrats unveiled a continuing resolution that funds the government through September 2011, which included the food safety bill and other measures. The continuing resolution passed by a 212-206 margin.

The House food safety bill that was attached to the continuing resolution includes minor technical changes that address the Senate food bill's violation of a constitutional requirement that revenue-raising bills must arise in the House, according to a statement yesterday from Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who was a main author of the House version.

The Senate food safety bill, which passed Nov 30 on a 73-25 vote, included fees for processes such as food recalls, food facility re-inspections, and registration of food importers. However, after the Senate passed the bill, it became clear that the fees are technically considered taxes under the Constitution.

The House could have "blue slipped" the Senate bill by passing a resolution declaring that it violated the Constitution, according to previous reports. Since then House and Senate negotiators have been working on a solution.

Both bills give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more authority and responsibility and require food producers and processors to develop contamination reduction plans.

It was not immediately clear how closely the new House bill matches the Senate bill. The original House bill, which it passed in 2009, was considered stronger, but during the Senate debate on its own bill, House leaders signaled that they would likely support the Senate's version in order to move the bill toward final passage.

Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), told CIDRAP News that he believes the new House version is identical to the Senate bill, except for a few technical changes to two areas that violated the Constitution.

The fees are considered important features of the bill that would help fund the FDA's new mandates. However, the Senate version did not include an annual registration fee for domestic food facilities, which was part of the original House bill and was considered an important source of funds to help pay for the FDA's increased workload.

Dingell said in his statement, "It is imperative that we immediately begin working on ensuring a food registration fee becomes law. I call on industry, consumer groups and House Republicans and Democrats who supported them the first time around to continue being a partner in this fight."

The fate of the food safety bill is still uncertain, because there is little time left in this Congress and Senate opponents could mount a filibuster. However, Democrats hope the bill's placement within the bigger spending bill may smooth its passage.

The CFA yesterday applauded the House's vote and said it looked forward to the next step in the Senate. "The Senate previously voted in support of the bill by a vote of 73-25. We urge the Senate to move quickly to pass this important legislation," the group said in a statement.

See also:

Dec 8 statement from Rep John Dingell

Dec 8 CIDRAP News Scan

Dec 1 CIDRAP News story "Senate miscue may derail food safety bill"

Dec 8 CFA statement

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