Egg Recall May Increase Odds of New Food Safety Legislation

With a nationwide recall of more than 500 million eggs focusing renewed attention on food safety, Senate negotiators spent the recess trying to settle remaining differences on pending legislation to bolster the Food and Drug Administration's enforcement power.

With a nationwide recall of more than 500 million eggs focusing renewed attention on food safety, Senate negotiators spent the recess trying to settle remaining differences on pending legislation to bolster the Food and Drug Administration's enforcement power.

In a bid to expedite floor action this fall, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and ranking member Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), continued discussions aimed at tweaking a manager's package released before the August recess. But so far, managers have not reached a compromise with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on her effort to bar the widely used chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, from plastic food and beverage containers because of possible health risks.

Feinstein has said that she will offer an amendment on the floor to ban future use of BPA in baby bottles, toddler cups, baby food jars and linings of metal infant-formula cans. She has said she will not insist that her BPA ban is included in the manager's package, but that she wants an up-or-down vote on her amendment on the floor.

The House passed its food safety bill in July 2009, but the Senate measure has repeatedly been sidelined in favor of other priorities, including the health care overhaul and economy-related legislation. The Senate committee approved its version in November 2009.

Food safety advocates hope the widespread recall of eggs potentially contaminated with Salmonella will create new momentum for quick Senate action.

FDA and USDA have primary, but not sole, responsibility for monitoring domestic and imported foods. Thirteen other federal agencies monitor U.S. foods, prompting some lawmakers to call for a single food safety agency.

While neither the House nor Senate bill would put one agency solely in charge of food safety, both bills would empower FDA to order mandatory food recalls, impose civil fines for violations and require more frequent inspections of food facilities. FDA also would gain access to records of domestic food facilities in emergencies and would be empowered to bar importation of food at high risk for pathogens if the products lacked proper certification or if U.S. inspectors were denied access to processing facilities. 

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