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In the wake of the recall of more than half a billion eggs, a number of consumer groups are urging the Senate to pass a food safety bill that would drastically expand the power of the FDA to inspect food manufacturers and prevent similar outbreaks.

In a press release this week, the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that the egg recall, spurred by hundreds of cases of salmonella from infected eggs, was just the latest of dozens of major food recalls that have taken place since July 30, 2009. That, notes the group, is the date that the House of Representatives passed sweeping food safety legislation – legislation that has since stalled on the Senate floor.

“Since that bill was passed – and while we wait for Senate action on companion legislation – our organizations… have documented 85 separate recalls of FDA regulated food,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s director of food safety, at a press conference Wednesday. The organization was joined by two other non-profits, the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in bringing attention to the house-approved Food Safety Enhancement Act and its companion bill in the Senate, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

Those bills would require food production facilities to take documented measures to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses; subject food imports to a higher standard of testing; and provide for increased inspection of facilities that have the potential to become the source of such outbreaks. It would also give the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall – an authority many are surprised to learn the agency does not already have.

“Right now the FDA can strongly encourage a company to perform a recall, and if they don’t, they will put out advisories,” Stan Hazan, senior director of regulatory affairs for NSF International, told MainStreet. “But they don’t have the regulatory ability to do a mandatory recall.” (NSF is a non-profit organization that occasionally works with the FDA in developing standards for product safety.)

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The House bill passed with bipartisan support, 283-142, and a recent amendment to the Senate bill that eased registration and paperwork requirements for small farms has helped clear a path to its passage. But various issues have threatened to derail the bill on the Senate floor, including an amendment to the bill by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) that aims to ban the use of bisphenol A in packaging of baby food. The resulting opposition to the amendment has held up the bill’s passage and has led to a sharply-worded editorial on by Bob Barr in which he encouraged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama to “take Feinstein to the woodshed.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that the controversy over the Feinstein amendment will be enough to impede the bill’s passage in the wake of the various high-profile recalls that have occurred this year.

“Anytime something is splashed on the front pages, all of a sudden there’s a legislative response,” Hazan says. “And pressure on legislators to get things done.”

Want to find out more about recent recalls? Check out the MainStreet recalls hot topic.

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