By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has passed a sweeping bill aimed at making food safer following recent contaminations in peanuts, eggs and produce, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The legislation passed Tuesday would give the government broad new powers to inspect processing plants, order recalls and impose stricter standards for imported foods. The $1.4 billion bill would also require larger farms and food manufacturers to prepare detailed food safety plans and tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production.
Praising the House, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the bill will give her agency new tools to make substantial improvements in food safety.
"This law makes everyone responsible and accountable at each step in today's global food supply chain," Hamburg said.
The food safety bill has faced several false starts since the House first passed it in July 2009. It stalled in the Senate for more than a year as small farms objected to the increased oversight and conservatives complained about the cost. Most recently, the Senate passed the bill in November with tax provisions that were supposed to originate in the House under the Constitution, threatening completion of the bill.
House leaders tried to revive the bill by including it in year-end budget legislation, but that legislation later died when Senate Republicans objected to adding food safety and other unrelated measures to the giant spending bill. Democratic leader Harry Reid gave the legislation a last-minute, surprise reprieve Sunday by working with Republicans to pass a stand-alone food safety bill by voice vote, sending it to the House.
The House passed it 215-144, sending it to Obama just under the wire as Congress prepares to adjourn for the year.
The bill would emphasize prevention so the agency could try to stop outbreaks before they begin. The recent outbreaks have exposed a lack of resources and authority at the FDA as the embattled agency struggled to trace and contain the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects most food facilities and farms, visiting some every decade or so and others not at all.