Consumer advocates breathed a sigh of relief today as the House took a major step towards FDA reform by passing H.R. 2749, The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.
After the provision fell just short of the supermajority needed under a suspension of the rules yesterday, the bill passed easily (283-142) under a closed rule.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, released a statement hailing the passage of the bill. “FDA has been operating under the same law for 70 years and can do little more than respond to outbreaks after the fact. This bill gives the FDA more authority and real enforcement teeth to help prevent more outbreaks, illnesses, and deaths.”
“I think it’s a credit to the hard work of a lot of people and yeomen’s work of 3 years of hearings,” said Toni Corbo of Food & Water Watch. “It took a coalition of consumer groups to really put this issue on the front burner for this session.”
Corbo also was quick to add that the bill’s success was a tribute to the victims of foodborne illness, noting that the family members of lost ones played a key role in shoring up support for the measure.
Food Safety Advocate Bill Marler followed the debate and vote closely. “It was great to see consumers, producers and manufacturers come together to support the first real food safety legislation in 50 years,” he said. “Now, however, the real work comes in working with the Senate and eventually a Conference Committee before it lands on the President’s desk.”
After meeting with over 200 members of Congress and over 80 Senators, Pat Buck, executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention whose grandson, Kevin, died from eating an E. coli-tainted hamburger, was ecstatic over HR 2749’s success. “This was a victory for the consumer today, it really was.”
“It is very exciting. It shows me that, finally, the very people who should be taking leadership are acting in a timely fashion. Congress is really responding to a 21st century need.” Buck stressed the importance of today’s success, adding that some advocates were worried food safety would not have received another chance in the 111th Congress had HR 2749 failed.
Though HR 2749 was a key success, it only marks the beginning of a long fight to bring legislation to President Obama’s desk.
“This is the first step,” said Corbo, who noted that Food and Water Watch would work hard to ensure a similar bill in the Senate in the face of a legislative agenda dominated by health care reform and appropriations bills. “It’s quite an agenda. We’re going to make sure food safety is in the queue before the end of the year. We need this legislation on the books so FDA can do its job properly.”
The food safety bill continues to garner broad support from consumer, health, and industry groups and it is expected to come before the Senate this fall.
More information on the bill, including full text and votes is available on Govtrack.us.