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The Senate voted 73-25 to pass a landmark food safety bill. The bill, which is aimed at increasing the overall food safety process, came in the wake of some very public food-related illnesses stemming from eggs, peanut butter and lettuce. Past approach to the growing problem has been to combat the outbreak after it has occurred.
Many of the measures in the current bill (officially titled: Food Safety Modernization Act) are aimed at improving safety and ensuring that outbreaks do not occur in the first place; a reform that is being classified as the biggest change to the food safety system since the 1930's.
"Today's vote will finally give the FDA the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe," Reuters quotes Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. In addition to allowing the FDA to demand a recall when a company refuses the agency's request to do so voluntarily, the food safety bill also increases the number of FDA food inspectors at riskier plants. Under the bill, the FDA would also have greater power to trace the source of food-borne diseases such as E.coli and salmonella.
Whether these measures will be enough is a question that can't be answered until they are implemented. The House of Representatives, which previously passed a bill similar in scope, will look at the bill before the end of the year.
One area of concern that the food safety bill failed to address was the fragmented nature of the FDA and Department of Agriculture. In addition to the two major agencies, there are also more than a dozen other federal agencies with overlapping food safety functions> It has been a bureaucratic nightmare, at times. Working to ensure safe food on the shelves, rather than safe recalls, is a step in the right direction, even if there is more work to be done.