Food safety measure hits snag

Procedural problems could delay passage of industry-favored bill

A sweeping food-safety law that was passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week and supported by leading restaurant industry trade groups has hit procedural and political hurdles that could jeopardize its passage.

The Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, or Senate Bill 510, might have to be sent back to the Senate by the House of Representatives, according to published reports, because certain provisions have been interpreted by some parliamentarians to be calling for the creation of taxes, which, by Constitutional requirement, must originate in the House.

The provisions in question, among other things, seek to impose fees on importers and farmers whose products are recalled because of contamination and recover the costs of reinspections. If it is ultimately determined that those fees amount to taxes, the bill’s text must be tacked onto a House bill and sent back to the Senate to be voted on again.

The Senate, which had approved the bill Tuesday on a bipartisan vote of 73-25, had sent it to the House to be reconciled and voted on again.

Following that, it would be sent to President Obama for his signature.

However, a political gambit by Republicans reportedly is complicating the plan to possibly send it back to the Senate chamber to be voted on again.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and 41 other Senate Republicans this week vowed to act on no additional bills until the issue of “funding the government” and extending Bush-era tax cuts is resolved. That means a vote on the repackaged food-safety bill may be delayed — a dangerous situation given that the lame-duck session of Congress is winding to a close.

Executives of the National Restaurant Association and the National Council of Chain Restaurants Tuesday both lauded the Senate’s passage of the food safety measure earlier.

That bill, if approved, among other things, would empower the FDA to order recalls of tainted foods, increase inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities, create stricter food-safety standards for imported foods and require the FDA to draft new rules for the growers and processors of higher-risk fruits and vegetables.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected]