POLITICS
11/29/2010 04:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sweeping Food-Safety Bill Backed By Unlikely Coalition

WASHINGTON -- The Food Safety Modernization Act, which would vastly improve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ability to ensure the nation's food safety, has attracted broad support on both sides of the political aisle.

The $1.4 billion measure has the backing of Congressional Democrats and has been touted by the likes of environmental activist Michael Pollan, who, in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday, called the measure "the best opportunity in a generation to improve the safety of the American food supply."

Meanwhile the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill on Monday, arguing it will "improve America's ability to prevent food borne illness and boost consumer confidence in U.S. food supplies while minimally burdening small farms and consumers."

Introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the legislation is expected to be one of the few bills to move quickly in Congress's "lame duck" session. Indeed the bill, S.510, is a rare example of the Chamber working with Democrats both on and off of Capitol Hill.

"This legislation would improve food safety by requiring all food manufacturers to develop a food safety plan, providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with new tools to ensure the safety of imported food, and employing a rational, risk-based approach to inspection," wrote Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive vice president, in a statement. "On this basis alone the Chamber supports final passage of the bill." (Read the Chamber's full letter of endorsement here.)

The bill would increase the power of the FDA, which oversees 80 percent of the nation's food, focusing on the areas of food-borne illness prevention, detection, and response. The law would also protect American consumers from unsafe food made overseas by subjecting imported foods to the same standards as food produced in the United States.

The legislation's wide-ranging support may be attributable, in part, to recent food contamination outbreaks. Last summer after thousands of people were infected with salmonella, Americans were angry to learn that the FDA had never conducted food safety inspections at operations that produce billions of eggs a year. The new guidelines aim to prevent such outbreaks and such outrage.

The House passed its version of the bill with bipartisan support back in July 2009, but the legislation hit a roadblock in the Senate. The newest version includes few changes beyond an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to exempt small farmers from new controls if they sell directly to consumers and bring in less than $500,000 in annual sales. (While major agricultural groups don't want small growers to have any less regulation than they do, small producers counter they don't get thousands of people sick if they have an outbreak.)

If the Senate passes the measure tomorrow, it would go back to the House for a final vote. There has been some indication that the House will adopt the Senate's bill, a senior Democratic aide tells HuffPost.