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Food-safety bill inches closer to passage

Food-safety bill inches closer to passage
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, discusses wasteful government spending during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on August 3, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Food-safety legislation that has been stalled for a year survived a procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday, setting up a final vote for later in the week.

The bill passed the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by a 16-0 vote on last Nov. 18 but has since been delayed by the more pressing matters of healthcare and Wall Street reform, The Hill reported Wednesday.

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The legislation, which has eight Republicans as co-sponsors, passed Wednesday's procedural vote 74-25, setting up a final vote.

"Senators often talk about the importance of addressing so-called kitchen table issues -- the practical, everyday concerns of working Americans," HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in a floor speech before the vote. "Well, food safety is literally a 'kitchen table' issue. And it couldn't be more urgent or absurdly overdue. It is shocking to think that the last comprehensive overhaul of America's food-safety system was in 1938 -- more than seven decades ago."

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Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who opposes the bill, said: "Fixing the real problems is about making the bureaucracy work right, not adding more layers and rules and bureaucracy. I want us to have food safety, but for every dollar additionally spent, how much can you really improve? We have the safest food in the world, but you can't get to 100 percent. So at what point do you stop spending additional dollars? It's like homeland security. Can we ever spend enough money to be absolutely sure nothing happens? No, we can't."

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The legislation would require more rigorous inspections at food-processing plants and grant the Department of Health and Human Services greater recall authority. The House passed its version of the bill in July 2009.

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