Maybe the Republicans realized they need to eat food too? Well, at least a dozen of them did. Yesterday, the long languishing Food Safety Modernization Act was advanced by a vote of 74-25, including all of the Democratic senators. A final vote could come soon. The bill originally followed in the wake of the PCA peanut-butter Salmonella outbreak in 2009. Interest was re-kindled following this summer’s massive Salmonella outbreak and recall linked to shell eggs.
Several issues continue to cloud the future of the bill however. First is the "Tester" amendment, proposed by Senator Tester (D) of Montana. The amendment excludes smaller farms from the new food safety regulations in the bill. Some are concerned that this could significantly weaken the impact of the bill. Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler had this to say:
"I have no problem with having states and local health departments dealing with oversight of farmers markets. But the problem is small farmers will be able to sell to wholesalers. Once that food gets into the wholesale market, there’s no controlling it,"
Another hurdle is long-time enemy of the legislation, Senator Coburn (R) of Oklahoma. Senator Coburn reportedly is considering adding an anti-earmark amendment to the bill, likely complicating matters significantly.
Finally, it appears that Senator Feinstein (D), California, is backing off from possibly trying to add a controversial ban of BPA in baby food containers to the bill.
The bill is far from a complete fix of the country’s food safety issues. However, improvement is badly needed. Hopefully the Senate will finally act to move this legislation forward shortly.