US Senate Chews on Food Safety Bill

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Westland/Hallmark Meat CEO Steven Mendell watches a Humane Society video of "downer" cattle at his slaughterhouse in Chino while he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 12, 2008. The largest ground beef recall in U.S. history was announced after the video went public. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ahead of Thanksgiving, the US Senate is discussing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation passed out of a Senate committee last year, but took this long to move through the legislative body's digestive tract.

S. 510 would give the FDA authority to order recalls as opposed to suggesting food producers do it. Also, federal regulators would be able to require food producers draft safety plans and proactively identify and eliminate possible sources of contamination.

Why the slow cook? The Los Angeles Times notes the bill significantly increases the clout of the Food and Drug Administration, and food producers are trying to limit the scope of the legislation, despite a series of highly publicized, deadly food-borne illness outbreaks that suggest self-policing isn't working so well. That, and the full Senate was a tad distracted by the health care overhaul and financial regulation this past year.

Also, there was that kerfuffle over Senator Diane Feinstein's insistence on addressing bisphenol A. The amendment is still in play - although it's a fair bit more modest than when it was launched.

Finally, Senator Jon Tester of Montana wants to exempt small growers and processors out of fear the bill's requirements will drive them out of business. That is a real concern to a number of consumer and environmental activists.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, it still needs to be reconciled with a House-passed version.

BTW, Westland/Hallmark (see photo) went out of business as a result of that recall. KPCC's Steve Cuevas followed up last year, and found the Chino plant under new management.

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About Rachael Myrow

From KQED’s Bureau in San Jose, Rachael Myrow covers politics, economics, technology, food and culture in a vast region extending from Burlingame to Edenvale to Fremont. This follows more than seven years waking at 3 am to host the daily version of KQED's California Report, broadcast on NPR affiliates throughout the state during NPR's Morning Edition. She still guest hosts for The California Report and Forum, blogs for Bay Area Bites, and files for NPR and PRI’s The World. Before KQED, she worked for Marketplace and KPCC in Los Angeles. Follow @rachaelmyrow

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