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Food-safety measure passes Senate in Sunday surprise
Late Sunday, Senate Democrats were weighing whether to attach the food safety language to one of a handful of measures expected to be brought to the Senate floor in the few remaining days before the Christmas recess.
But Coburn, who tried several times to kill the legislation, promised to filibuster any measure that includes food safety, a maneuver that would cost Democrats precious floor time in the waning days of the lame-duck session. John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said Sunday night he did not know why his boss relented.
Unlike the current system, which relies on government inspectors catching contamination, the new measure would require manufacturers and farmers to come up with strategies to prevent contamination of the food covered by the bill and then continually test to make sure the systems are working.
It also would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to recall food; now, it must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves. And, the bill would give the FDA access to internal records at farms and food-production facilities.
The bill would require importers to verify that products grown and processed overseas meet U.S. safety standards. Public health experts say this is urgently needed, given the increase in imports. The FDA has been inspecting only about 1 percent of imported food products.
The bill is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, including the expense of hiring 17,800 new FDA inspectors.
One in six Americans become ill from tainted food each year, and 3,000 die, according to government figures. Businesses spend billions of dollars as a result of lost sales, recalls and legal expenses triggered by the problem.