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Bipartisan Senate passes food safety bill

Bipartisan Senate passes food safety bill
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. 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate, by a convincingly bipartisan 73-25 vote Tuesday, passed a sweeping reform of the nation's food safety laws.

"Today's vote will finally give the (Food and Drug Administration) the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe," bill sponsor Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said in a release. "This bill will have a dramatic impact on the way the FDA operates -- providing it with more resources for inspection, mandatory recall authority and the technology to trace an outbreak back to its source."

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Durbin said the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act focuses on four areas where FDA's authorities and resources must be improved: food-borne illness prevention; food-borne illness detection and response; food defense capabilities; and overall resources.

President Obama lauded the Senate, saying the act's passage means "we are one step closer to having critically important new tools to protect our nation's food supply and keep consumers safe."

"This legislation ensures more frequent inspections of food manufacturing facilities and will require these facilities to take preventative actions to reduce the risks of outbreaks and food-borne illness," Obama said in a statement.

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The bill places greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to prevent contamination, departing from the current system that relies on government inspectors to catch contamination after the fact, The Washington Post said. The bill would establish standards for imported foods, including requiring importers to verify that products grown and processed overseas meet safety standards.

The measure gives the FDA authority to recall food instead of relying on food companies to voluntarily remove their products from the shelves, the Post said. It also gives the FDA access to internal records at farms and food production facilities.

It allows the FDA to regularly inspect farms and food processing facilities, something not done now.

The House approved a more stringent version of the bill more than a year ago, but leaders in the lower chamber indicated they would accept the Senate version to avoid a conference committee and hasten getting the legislation to President Obama's desk for his signature, the Post said. Proponents said they hope the legislation could be signed into law by the end of the lame-duck session.

Obama also urged the House to "to act quickly on this critical bill... ."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a vocal critic of the legislation, has called the bill unnecessary and objected to the cost to the government, estimated at about $1.4 billion over four years. However, the Congressional Budget Office has said it would have a negligible impact on the federal deficit.

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