Today’s failed attempt at comprehensive food safety reform left consumer advocates deeply disappointed, but ready to resume the fight.
Many in the food safety community expected to have the votes to pass HR 2749, a bipartisan measure that unanimously passed out of committee in June, but the measure fell just short of the supermajority required under a suspension of the rules.
Pat Buck, the executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention whose grandson, Kevin, died from eating an E. coli tainted hamburger said she was frustrated about today’s vote, “Personally, I’m devastated. Really what happened was that some Congressional members put special interests ahead of public health.”
“Congress lost sight of the bigger picture,” said Buck, who points to issues over the special rules and the burden on small farmers as distractions from the larger issue: that we need stronger regulations for a safer food supply. “It doesn’t matter where food comes from, it needs to be safe. No one wants to see small farmers suffer, but right now, American families are suffering and that’s not right.”
“It is disappointing,” adds Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.). “A combination of things happened here. It was unfortunate timing with the recess. Changes to satisfy certain groups weren’t made public in time, there was a lot of misinformation about small and sustainable farmers.”
A spokesman for Food & Water Watch agreed, explaining that even with last minute changes to appease small farmers many key farm groups still voiced opposition to the legislation this morning, a move that helped pressure key members to withdraw support.
Rosenbaum’s frustration over the legislative setback is clear. “Hairdressers pay a similar annual fee in some states! We’re talking about the food we ingest! To us, improving regulation and funding is a no brainer.” Rosenbaum was also frustrated by the debate on the House floor, pointing out that several lawmakers furthered the “ridiculous” notion that the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world. “I am not sure where they got their information, but we have found that, on a comparative basis, that is really not true, we are behind other countries.”
Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler added “Frankly, after a dozen years without any significant positive change in food safety legislation, I really thought congress and business – both small and large – would put public safety before narrow commercial interests. Consumers suffered today because of congressional inaction.”
After the disappointing vote, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will take up the bill again tomorrow under rules requiring a simple majority for passage, which will leave the legislation vulnerable to weakening amendments. Meanwhile, consumer advocates gear up for another fight against special interests. As Rosenbaum puts it, “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. There are still opportunities and we will try again.”
Click to see which members of Congress voted against HR 2749.