Under current law, recalls for tainted food are voluntary. For years, consumer activists have tried and failed to make Congress give the Food and Drug Administration the legal power for mandatory food recalls. In response to those pleas, legislators have devoted plenty of rhetoric to granting the FDA the necessary legal power but to no avail. After much heal-dragging and "kicking the can down the road" a late August recall of nearly a half-a-billion salmonella contaminated eggs pushed the decision over the edge. After some political wrangling, a food safety bill sailed through the U.S. Senate but was grounded when it reached the House of Representatives.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, scolded the Senate for making the mistake, saying the House is trying to find a way to resolve the issue in the few remaining days of the congressional session.
The $1.4 billion bill would increase Food and Drug Administration inspections of food facilities, place stricter standards on imported foods and give the agency broader authority to order a recall. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli in peanuts, eggs and produce.
No matter how Democratic leaders plan to proceed, the bill could now run into a number of obstacles as Republicans may attempt to block it.
Senate Republicans threatened on Wednesday to block all other legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government. That would include the pending food safety legislation.
The vote comes in the wake of the massive August recall of eggs after a salmonella outbreak that sickened some 1,700 people. More than half a billion eggs were recalled this year, the largest recall in the industry's history.