Republicans did not like how the Democrats did it, but they provided enough votes Thursday to see the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 pass the U.S. House of Representatives with a strong bipartisan vote of 283-to-142.

Just before passing the biggest food safety reform since 1938, the House Democrats had to turn back a “last stand” attempt led by mostly rural Republicans to send the bill back to committee "with instructions."   That died by an almost perfect party-line vote of 186 – to- 240.

Those “instructions” called for half the funds from new registration fees to be used to reimburse farmers for losses like those experienced last year by tomato growers when FDA erroneously thought they were responsible for a salmonella outbreak.  Growers claim that mistake by FDA cost them $100 million.

Defeat of the GOP motion cleared the way for passage of the most comprehensive reform of food safety in the United States since 1938 . It was adopted after a rule limiting amendments and limiting debate to one hour passed 249 to 180.

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, the longest serving member of the House, said H.R. 2749 “was old enough to vote” itself in that he has been working on reforms contained in the bill for 21 years.

Dingell read many sections of the bill aloud before the vote to assure small and organic farmers, livestock and grain farmers, and those concerned about environmental practices that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is not going to run wild as a result of the legislation.

Rep. Collin Peterson, Chairman of House Agriculture Committee, said with those changes Ag groups were either supportive or neutral on the FDA bill.

Yesterday, the same bill fell just short of getting the required two-thirds vote for fast-track passage with 280 votes in favor and 150 against.

Florida Republican Adam Putnam said H.R. 2749 would result in a “modern, effective regulatory system” becoming a reality.

FDA, which gets new risk-based inspection and trace-back authority along with a $500 per facility fee for the food-making facilities it regulates, will oversea both domestic and foreign food products that are imported to the U.S. 

“Foreigners now have to meet the same standards as Americans,” Dingell said.

Proponents argued that the reforms contained in H.R. 2749 are needed as much by consumers as producers.   “We have to have confidence in our food supply,” said Illinois Republican John Shimkus. 

Under H.R. 2749, FDA gets recall authority, immediate access to records, and subpoena authority.

New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, who managed the rule on the floor,  said 76 million food-borne illnesses and 5,000 deaths are reasons enough to bring H.R. 2749 back for a vote.  

The 132-page bill now goes to the Senate where Illinois Democrat Dick Durham is waiting with his own bill.   Likely as not, any Senate bill will contain enough differences to require a Conference Committee to work out differences. President Obama endorsed the House bill before today’s vote.