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Salmonella wins, food safety bill loses in early House vote

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives came up six votes shy of passing a groundbreaking—but flawed— food safety bill. The House plans to give it another shot today.

With animal droppings contaminating our spinach with E. coli and bird feces leaving peanut butter with a Salmonella taint, food safety advocates have long urged a reform of our nation’s patchy safety network that regulates the growing, distributing, and processing of foods. In the United States, some 76 million people get food poisoning each year, and 325,000 of those end up in the hospital.  

The Food Safety Enhancement Act would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to order mandatory food recalls and fine facilities $20,000 per day for certain violations. It would also leverage a $500 annual fee on food processors and facilities to help pay for enforcement and tighter oversight described in the $3.5-billion measure.

But the bill wasn’t just supposed to be about keeping feces out of our food; it was once supposed to scale back rampant antibiotic use and regulate cattle feed (which is sometimes laced with cow blood and—surprise—chicken poop). Last minute tweaking convinced industry lobbyists, such as the National Pork Producers Council, to get on board by scaling back antibiotic limits and easing recordkeeping requirements by livestock farms.  

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says the bill would harm wildlife on farms and leave small-scale producers with a conservation ethic high and dry. The $500 fee would be the same for someone who “turns locally grown cabbage into kraut”—as Grist’s Tom Philpott puts it—and a company that churns out peanut butter for the country. The fee would also place onerous bookkeeping requirements on organic growers that duplicate procedures they follow under the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Yesterday's early vote failed to achieve the two-third majority required under special rules that streamline the passage of bills by limiting debate and prohibiting amendments. Today's vote has a better chance since the House needs only a simple majority.

Photo of peanut butter and bacon sandwich courtesy Inuyaki via Flickr

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