Senate to vote on food safety bill that Adam Putnam championed in the House

The House bill would impose registration fees on food processing plants and require more frequent inspections however, than the somewhat watered down Senate bill. As USA Today reports:

Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America said that the House version contained provisions that food-safety advocates preferred but that some of those ideas failed in the Senate. More frequent inspections, for instance, would cost taxpayers more — a hard sell given the recent emphasis on spending cuts.

"We would have liked to see stronger inspection frequencies because that's important to basic oversight," Waldrop said. "But the fact that the industry has been supportive ... shows the broad array of stakeholders that are behind this bill."

As the legislation has sat in the Senate, opponents have found new methods to attack it.  As food journalists Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser write in an op-ed in today's New York Times, the bill has come under siege by none other than Glenn Beck and other Tea Party types:

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is the bill’s most influential opponent by far. On the floor of the Senate the week before last, he claimed that only 10 or 20 Americans a year die from a food-borne illness, that the government doesn’t need mandatory recall power because “not once in our history have we had to force anyone to do a recall,” and that the annual cost of the new food safety requirements — about $300 million — is prohibitively expensive.

Senator Coburn is wrong on every point. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5,000 Americans annually die from a food-borne illness. Last year, at the height of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands, spread via tainted peanut butter, the Westco Fruit and Nuts company refused for weeks to recall potentially contaminated products, despite requests from the F.D.A.

And as for spending that extra $300 million every year, a recent study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion. In Senator Coburn’s home state, it’s about $1.8 billion. Compared with those amounts, this bill is a real bargain.

The Senate could vote on the legislation as early as Monday night.

As Congress returns back to work in Washington for a few more weeks of their lame-duck session of Congress (and by the way, why is it so controversial that they actually do so?  We thought that representatives were elected for two years - not a year and ten months), among the bills that the Senate will vote on that the House has already passed include the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Similar legislation was passed in the House of Representatives in 2009 that was championed by Polk County Republican Adam Putnam, who introduced several provisions in the bill.

Putnam was elected Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture earlier this month, and during his campaign against Democrat Scott Maddox he frequently spoke about the legislation, though there are noticeable differences between what he and his colleagues voted on the House and what the Senate is contemplating.

Back when hundreds of millions of eggs were recalled this summer because of concerns about a salmonella outbreak, Putnam called on the Senate to get its act together and pass the legislation, saying at the time that:

“It’s often noted that our nation’s food supply is among the safest in the world.  However, this most recent outbreak of salmonella, which may have sickened thousands of people, highlights the deficiencies in our food safety system that must be addressed.

“Much of the current system was devised during the Teddy Roosevelt Administration,” said Putnam.  “And every year seems to bring a new food safety concern: one year it’s pistachio nuts or peanut butter, and next it’s bagged spinach or Mexican jalapeno peppers.  This year it’s eggs.  The system needs to be modernized, streamlined and made more effective.  The Senate has legislation before it, and it needs to take action now.”

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