Food Safety Bill Stumbles in Quick House Vote

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

The House on Wednesday narrowly defeated a bill aimed at toughening food safety laws, but House leaders say they will try again to pass it before week's end.

Because it came to the floor under special rules that limited debate and blocked amendments, the bill required 286 votes, or a two-thirds majority, to pass. It fell six votes short of that, with 280 voting in favor and 150 opposed.

Opponents, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), complained that the process had been rushed and that Democratic leaders produced three different versions of the bill on the day of the vote.

"This may be a great bill, but I have no idea," Boehner said. "We're considering it here in the House under a procedure where there is a whopping 40 minutes of debate and no amendments. It's a major food safety bill and nobody gets to offer amendments, nobody gets to debate, and nobody knows what's in the bill."

Hill sources said Democratic leaders were likely to reintroduce the bill Thursday under a special rule, which would require a simple majority for passage.

The bill is strongly supported by the White House and a raft of consumer groups, as well as some major industry trade groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers of America. But it has faced vocal opposition from some farm interests, and several Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee said it would burden farmers and ranchers and create new federal bureaucracy without improving food safety.

The measure places significant new responsibility on farmers and food processors to prevent contamination before it occurs. It would require food growers and processors to identify the particular contamination risks they face, create controls to prevent contamination, monitor those controls, test to make sure they are working and update those measures regularly.

It also gives the FDA new power to set safety standards for growing and processing food and requires it to sharply increase inspections and enforcement. In turn, the agency would gain significant authority to contain outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The agency would be able to mandate the recall of a food if it suspects contamination instead of relying on the foodmaker to voluntarily call back tainted products.

A Senate version sponsored by Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) has bipartisan support.


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