November 30, 2010 (Washington D.C.) By a 73-25 vote, the Senate has approved S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein voted for the bill, which aims to protect consumers following widespread outbreaks of e-coli and salmonella involving foods such as spinach, eggs, peanut butter. Those outbreaks results in deaths and thousands of illnesses. The bill will next be heard by the House, which is expected to pass the bill and send it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The bill provides the most sweeping reforms in the food industry since the 1930s. For the first time, this measure authorizes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order recalls of foods that the agency believes are contaminated. Currently, federal regulators can only issue health advisories and encourage companies to issue voluntary recalls. The reforms stop short of covering some foods implicated in recent mass contamination incidents, however.
The bill also requires large food producers to have qualifying plans in place for addressing safety risks, increases inspections of “high risk” food facilities, and requires importers to verify the safety of all imported foods.
Small food facilities that do less than $500,000 in sales annually and sell most of their food within a 275 mile area would be exempt from the new regulations, though the FDA reserves the right to revoke the exemption for a given facilities if they come across contaminated food from the facility while investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.
"This legislation means that parents who tell their kids to eat their spinach can be assured it won't make them sick," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who as the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee authored the bill.
Some argue that the bill does not go far enough, however. It covers only foods regulated by the FDA. That means that beef, poultry, and eggs will be exempted, for example, since they are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Diana Nole, whose young son died from eating a hamburger contaminated by e-coli back in 1993, has been fighting for food safety reforms for years. She called the bill a “step forward” but expressed disappointment that the measure stopped short of increasing regulations on meat and eggs. Recently, more than half a billion eggs were implicated in salmonella contamination in the U.S. “I don’t trust the government. It’s up to the consumer,” Nole said, according to the Washington Post.