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According to Reuters, the U.S. Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted last Wednesday to increase government oversight on food safety. This would be the first major overhaul of the food safety system in 50 years. However, as busy as congress is with health care, food safety probably won't hit the Senate floor until early 2010.
The Senate bill, similar to the House legislation, would allow the FDA to expand oversight of the food supply and more importantly, shift its focus from reacting to outbreaks of foodborne, illness to preventing them. The FDA would have the power to order recalls, increase inspection rates to at least once every four years, and in the case of high-risk facilities, once every year. Currently, facilities can go several years without a visit from the FDA. The Bill would also implement traceability for fruits and vegetables and start a pilot program for tracing processed foods.
The only current difference between the House and Senate bills is the House bill provides for funding for the increased oversight via a yearly fee of $500 charged to processing plants while the Senate bill does not. However, the Senate might change its mind on that point after the Congressional Budget office puts a price tag on the bill. Chairman of the Health Committee Tom Harkin (D) said, "if this is for public protection, it's something we all ought to pay for."
Consumer groups are pleased with the progress thus far. "This is another milestone on the path to fixing our badly broken system for food safety," said Jean Halloran, a director at Consumers Union. Even large U.S. food companies are generally in favor of improving food safety as illness outbreaks are detrimental to sales. "There are not big substantive disagreements that will stand in the way of legislation," said Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.