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Food Safety Overhaul Faces Defunding

May 31, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last session, one of the few truly bipartisan things Congress accomplished was enacting new food safety legislation, designed to increase the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory authority over the food chain in order to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks. It passed 73-25 in the Senate and 283-142 in the House. But under the House Republicans' proposed budget, the FDA would not receive the extra money authorized by Congress last year to start implementing the new food safety law. In fact, they would see their budget cut below current operating levels.

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The Week Ahead

December 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

If congressional leaders have their way, this will be the final week of the 111th Congress. President Obama and most Republicans are hoping the Democrats will end their four years in the majority by passing a full extension of the Bush tax cuts for all income levels. To that end, the Senate is set to take a big cloture vote this afternoon on an amendment to the House's bill to allow the tax cuts to expire for income over $200,000 (H.R. 4853) that would change the bill to extend all the tax cuts, lower the estate tax, extend unemployment benefits, and lots more. If today's vote passes, as is expected, the bill will be sent back to the House by Tuesday evening for follow-up action. That's where things become less clear.

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Senate Democrats violated a constitutional provision with their food safety bill by including language that would levy new fees on food facilities as revenue raisers. Under the Constitution, all legislation increasing taxes must originate in the House, and these fees qualify. "By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House," Roll Call is reporting. "The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides."

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Food Safety Bill Passes the Senate

November 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

By a bipartisan vote of 73-25, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act has passed the Senate. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass it, rather than convene a conference committee, and then send it to Obama to be signed into law before the end of the lame duck session.

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Following the adoption of Sen. Jon Tester's [D, MT] local foods amendment last week and Michael Pollan's big endorsement in the New York Times today, the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act looks set to pass the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is telling senators to "expect a late night of voting on the bill" tonight, and when all is said and done, the bill will likely have the support of a large, bipartisan majority of the Senate and win final approval. It's looking likethe food safety overhaul might be the Democrats' last big legislative victory before handing half off the Congress back to the Republicans.

UPDATE: The cloture motion on the substitute amendment has passed, 69-26.

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Local Food Amendment Advances in Senate

November 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

When he's not in Washington, Sen. Jon Tester [D, MT] operates a small-scale grain farm in Montanta, so he's sympathetic to concerns that the food safety bill could unfairly burden small farms while trying to address safety concerns that are almost exclusive caused by large industrial food production plants. Yesterday he struck a deal with Senate leadership to have his amendment protecting small and local food companies rolled into the bill via the manager's amendment. Read the summary from Tester's office below and see if you this does enough to protect the local food movement:

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Food Safety Modernization Will Get a Vote This Week

November 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) is on tap for a vote in the Senate later this week, but some local food advocates worry it could unfairly impact small farmers. The goal of the bill is to improve regulatory oversight of food production in order to prevent things like the recent salmonella egg and spinach outbreaks. Critics argue that the bill takes a one-size-fits-all approach and would burden small farms with new regulatons that are needed to address problems caused by big agribusiness companies. Below is a summary of the manager's amendment that will become the base text of the bill if a filibuster of beginning debate is defeated in the Senate this week:

 

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Congress comes back to work today for the first time since the midterms for what is known as a "lame duck" session, a post-election work period with defeated incumbents still in office, but unaccountable, and newly-elected members waiting in the wings. Lame duck sessions have historically been relatively unproductive, but there is a lot that could happen this time and there's a certain unpredictability to lame duck sessions that make it extra important that we pay close attention. Here's a quick look at what Congress might take up in the lame duck.

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A Breakthrough on Food Safety?

August 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Last week, an evenly bipartisan group of six senators from the Health, Education, Labor and Pesnsions Committee released a manager's amendment to the long-stalled Senate food safety bill (S.510) that they jope will provide the framework for moving forward. Hill folks are expecting this to come up before the Senate leaves for campaign season.

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Is the Food Safety Bill Too Hard on Small Farms?

April 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Before the Senate moves into the world of financial regulatory reform, they're going to take up a major food safety bill next week, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, that would make food facility inspections more frequent, improve verification of the safety of imported foods, give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods, and more.

As non-controversial and obvious as the bill sounds -- nobody likes E. coli with their spinach or salmonella with their eggs -- a lot of people are firmly against it. Check out, for example, the 22% approval rating it has on OpenCongress. Why all the opposition? Well, the bill doesn't distinguish between huge agribusiness food producers and local farms, and the burden of some of the new regulations could be just too much for small-scale food producers to keep up with. Or so the argument goes.

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