Food Safety Bill Tastes a Little Bland

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Nov 29, 2010 4:08 PM
Votes on the Food Safety Bill will start around 6:30pm in the Senate, and the two conservative-friendly Amendments up for debate probably won’t make it through. A third amendment that will decrease the impact on small farms is expected to pass, however.

The first amendment, put forth by Sen. Tom Coburn, would revise the entirety of the bill to include more free-market reforms, including the ability of private inspectors to ensure food safety instead of the FDA. These third-party inspectors would be licensed through a trade association, and FDA would concentrate its energy on bad actors.

That would allow companies like Wal-Mart to regulate itself via the free market (something it is eminently capable of doing) and allow the FDA to intervene only when a problem arises. This amendment also curtails the FDA’s ability to issue recalls and institute traceability requirements, which will undoubtedly over-burden smaller producers. Unfortunately, the Senate is unlikely to agree to any of these changes.

The second, unrelated amendment would enact an earmark moratorium, and is also put forth by Sen. Coburn. Republican Senators have already voluntarily adopted an earmark ban, but Coburn’s amendment would force an official vote on it by every one of his colleagues on the Senate floor. Again, the amendment needs 67 votes to pass in the Senate, so it’s probably going nowhere. This vote comes shortly after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s new, widely-publicized anti-earmark stance, which allowed the Republican moratorium to go through but is evidently not enough to get a Senate-wide earmark ban in place.

Lastly, the Tester Amendment is expected to make it through tonight's vote, which I have reported on extensively here and here. Tester's amendment limits the extent to which small farms must comply with the new regulations, and has caused a few major food companies to withdraw their support for the bill. Unfortunately, it may not be the cure-all for local, specialty food producers with  smaller operations.

To sum it up, this bill will probably be the massive expansion of government authority that conservative detractors have claimed it will be, and won't even include the silver lining of an earmark moratorium.