Congress Passes Food-Safety Bill

By Peter Katel

Congress has finally passed the first major overhaul of food safety law since the regulatory system was established in 1906. As this week’s CQ Researcher [subscription required] reports, a last-minute technical hitch and growing political opposition nearly doomed the legislation for this congressional session. The bill’s prospects in the next Congress seemed dim.

President Obama has indicated he will sign the legislation, which applies to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, overseer of 80 percent of the country’s food supply. Most notably, the FDA will be empowered to order food recalls, which have been voluntary up to now.

The legislation grew out of a strange-bedfellows alliance between consumer advocates and major sectors of the food industry. Members of both were alarmed by a series of major food-poisoning outbreaks that began in the early 1990s. These claimed dozens of lives, and gravely sickened hundreds of people, many left permanently disabled.

The remaining 20 percent of the national food supply – most meat and poultry – is regulated by the U.S. Agriculture Department. That agency wasn’t affected by the new legislation, but some food safety experts are advocating a new law to toughen oversight of meat production.