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It's Time to Act on Food Safety

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The massive egg recall of this summer, the peanut products recall of 2009, tomatoes pulled off the shelves two summers ago, and now a new twist in the saga to pass food safety legislation. After months of negotiations, a bill designed to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration by giving the agency the tools it needs to better protect the health of all Americans, may be stalled in Congress due to a "technical" glitch.

In July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2749. One week ago, the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) by a vote of 73-25. But the day after S. 510 passed in the Senate, the House of Representatives determined that, due to the S. 510's revenue provisions, the legislation technically should have originated in the House. The only way to fix this problem is through House action. Later this week, the House is expected to introduce and act on a new bill, which then must be passed by the Senate. But, time is running out on the 111th Congress! Both the House and the Senate must act quickly if they hope to send food safety legislation to the President. This really is an opportunity that must not be allowed to slip away!

Food safety impacts every single American. We all eat. And, we all expect that the food we buy and put into our bodies is safe -- but, time after time, it is not. People get sick with short term symptoms and many develop long term illnesses from which they never recover -- tragically, some die. All from eating food! This is unacceptable.

FDA is responsible for 80% of our food supply. Unfortunately, the agency currently does not have the authorities or the resources it needs to regularly inspect the facilities under its jurisdiction. Government inspectors show up once every 8 to 10 years. The proposed legislation would increase FDA's inspection frequency to once every 5 to 7 years -- certainly not perfect -- but a step in the right direction! Backyard gardeners have nothing to fear. This bill is not about you. It only applies to food producers that have over $500,000 in yearly sales and sell products more than 275 miles away. So, there will be no government inspectors knocking at your garden gate. Nor will the bill place onerous provisions on small-scale farmers who sell at local markets -- the Tester Amendment attached to S. 510 spells out protections for small processors and farming operations.

Additionally, FDA needs authority to mandate recalls -- waiting until a company voluntarily issues its own recall can be a problem. While most companies comply, a few waste precious time by dragging their feet or by refusing to issue a recall. In the meantime, while we wait, contaminated products remain on store shelves and in our homes.

S. 510, as passed by the Senate, is a basic blueprint for reform, and we desperately need its provisions if we hope to meet the domestic and global food challenges of the 21st century. It has been 70 years since we last saw major food safety legislation for FDA and we simply can't wait any longer. Now is the time. The 111th Congress has the chance to make history. We urge every House Member and Senator to continue supporting the passage of food safety legislation in the remaining days of this Congress. All Americans have the right to safe food!

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