Congress has adopted the first major overhaul of food safety rules in 70 years, giving the Food and Drug Administration far more authority in monitoring the nation’s food supply.
The legislation, passed by the House on Tuesday after Senate approval on Sunday, is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, according to The New York Times. The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support, passing by a margin of 215 to 144 in the House.
As a result of the legislation, food producers will have to verify that their foreign suppliers meet U.S. food safety standards, and must carry out, with the supervision of federal authorities, detailed examinations of their operations so as to eliminate contamination. The bill also provides for the hiring of 2,000 new F.D.A. safety inspectors.
The new law comes in response to a series of public-health scares brought on by food-borne illnesses in recent years, from salmonella-laced eggs to spinach tainted with E. coli. According to estimates, some 3,000 people a year are killed by contaminated food, and recalls lead to economic losses of billions of dollars per year.
“This is a big victory for consumers that finally brings food-safety laws into the 21st century,” Jean Halloran, of the advocacy group Consumers Union, told The Washington Post. “This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick.”
Other experts were measured in their enthusiasm.
“The F.D.A. asked for and was given a very long lead time for implementation,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But it’s still a vast improvement over what we have today.”
However, funding to hire more inspectors and implement other features of the bill could become an issue in budget talks next year, when Republicans take control of the House.
The bill had bounced back and forth between the Senate and House and appeared doomed by tax provisions erroneously inserted in the Senate version (Under the Constitution, tax modifications must originate in the House.). However, the Senate passed a newer version minus the tax provisions on Sunday, which made Tuesday’s House vote possible.