Safe food isn't a controversial issue, right? President Obama supports the food safety bill -- even the Republicans support it. So why hasn't it p
July 11, 2010

Safe food isn't a controversial issue, right? President Obama supports the food safety bill -- even the Republicans support it. So why hasn't it passed? The holdup seems to be that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she'll offer an amendment banning bisphenol-A, the nasty little chemical and known endocrine disruptor found in virtually all food and beverage containers -- which upsets the companies who make the stuff. The container industry is a huge one, and banning the substance so widely used could have major economic effects at a time when we're barely holding on. Hopefully they'll come up with an effective compromise with Feinstein:

A year after House Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly approved legislation to improve food safety, public health advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate has yet to take up the bill.

A coalition of food safety groups tried to turn up the pressure last week on Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), running newspaper ads in the lawmakers' two states featuring constituents who fell seriously ill from food poisoning. The ads urged Reid and McConnell to move the bill to the Senate floor and pass it.

"Time is short -- there are not a lot of legislative days on the calendar and we're seeing [food] recalls every week," said Erik Olson with the food and consumer product safety programs at Pew Health Group. "There is obviously a lot of interest in making sure folks know this bill has broad public support and that there is really no reason not to move this. It would show that Washington can get something done."

[...] The bill, which would be the first major change to food safety laws in 70 years, is designed to give the Food and Drug Administration vast new regulatory authority over food production. It places greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to produce food free from contamination -- a departure from the country's reactive tradition, which has relied on government inspectors to catch tainted food after the fact.

The legislation follows a wave of food-borne illnesses over the past four years, involving products as varied as spinach and cookie dough, which has shaken consumer confidence and made the issue a priority for many lawmakers and the White House. Food illnesses affect one in four Americans and kill 5,000 each year, according to government statistics. Tainted food has cost the food industry billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales and legal expenses.

The measure also would give the FDA authority to order a recall if it suspects contamination -- authority it does not currently have. It would allow the FDA to quarantine a geographic area, blocking the distribution of suspect food to the rest of the country. And the agency would gain access to records at farms and food production facilities.

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