NSAC's Blog

Food Safety Bill Remains Stalled In Senate

September 22, 2010

The Senate Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) remains deadlocked over Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) objections to the bill’s potential $1.4 billion price tag, despite Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision to “hotline” the bill yesterday in order to check for any remaining Democratic objections, a critical step toward speeding the bill’s progress.

Lawmakers at a hearing today on the recent outbreak of salmonella in eggs called on Senator Coburn to back down on his objections to S.510.  “Please lift your hold and allow this vital safety legislation to move forward,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) in a statement to Coburn, who was not present at the hearing.

Sen. Coburn has given little signal that he will relent his opposition to the bill’s passage unless the bill contains “cost offsets” from other federal programs.  Without unanimous consent on the bill, the Democrats will have to choose whether to invoke cloture in order to limit debate on the floor, a time-intensive process at a time when members of Congress are anxious to pass a number of bills before the close of the fiscal year on September 30th and to return to their home districts ahead of the midterm elections.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director at NSAC, told Food Safety News that Coburn’s demand for cost offsets is a “logical impossibility” (see last week’s post).

“[S.510] merely authorizes the possibility of later appropriations,” explained Hoefner.  “The policies and programs authorized are then considered at a later time by the Appropriations Committees who determine whether or not to fund the authorizations. It is not possible to “pay for” or “offset” a discretionary program in an authorization bill. It is perfectly valid to debate the potential ultimate cost of passing a food safety bill.  It is not logical, however, to then morph into a debate about offsetting that potential cost.  That debate occurs in the context of a completely different piece of legislation, in this case the agricultural appropriations bill.”

It is unclear whether the bill will move until after the midterm elections, but we will continue to push to include the final version of the provision proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) — exempting small farms and farms that primarily direct market their products from certain aspects of the proposed new regulatory regime for food corporations — in the Manager’s Package of amendments (see last week’s post).

The bill remains far from perfect, but with the changes adopted in markup last April and with the changes that will be adopted in the manager’s amendment, hopefully including the  Tester language – the lead Senate sponsors of S. 510 [Senators Durbin (D-IL), Gregg (R-NH), Dodd (D-CT), Burr (R-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Enzi (R-WY)] have gone a long way toward addressing the very legitimate concerns of advocates for small and mid-scale farming, local and regional food systems, and conservation and organic farming.

Categories: Food Safety

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