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Senate Moves Food Safety Bill Ahead, But Hurdles Remain

posted on November 18, 2010

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Driven by surging demand for automobiles, a key barometer of consumer sentiment rose in October by the largest amount in seven months.

According to the Commerce Department, retail sales rose 1.2 percent last month. That's their largest increase since March and it was nearly double the gain analysts had expected. Excluding autos, however, retail sales rose a more tepid 0.4 percent.

Separately, the Labor Department reports higher gasoline prices drove the consumer price index up 0.2 percent in October, marking its fourth straight monthly increase. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, however, so-called, "core inflation" was unchanged. Over the past year core prices have risen just one-half of one percent in their smallest gain in 53 years.

And, the Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of leading indicators increased 0.5 percent last month, suggesting mild economic growth next spring.

The outlook for Congressional Productivity, on the other hand, is less clear -- particularly in the current lame-duck session. The Senate, for example, is considering comprehensive reforms of the nation's food safety system. But at the 11th hour, the overhaul ran into a snag.

Senate Moves Food Safety Bill Ahead, But Hurdles Remain

Earlier this week, the Senate voted to move forward on a far-reaching food safety bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, more power to prevent food-borne illnesses. The Senate voted 74-25 to proceed with the measure; more than a year after the House passed its own version. But Thursday evening, the Senate failed to vote as planned on the passage of the bill, a delay that may threaten the legislation.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin blamed the delay on the insistence of Republican Senator Tom Coburn that the Senate consider an amendment to ban earmarks, or federal spending for pet projects in lawmakers' states.

The delay resulted in the clock running out on the 30-hour time period senators had to wrap-up debate and vote on the food-safety bill.

Another sticking point had been a proposed exemption from some regulatory requirements for small farmers. Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, had been pushing for an amendment to the bill that would exempt farmers who sell directly to consumers within a 400 mile radius and who make less than $500,000 a year. However, on Thursday, Tester agreed to compromise that the exemption would be withdrawn if the farm is involved in a food-borne illness outbreak.

Recent food-related outbreaks of illness and nationwide recalls involving lettuce and half a billion eggs have increased the pressure on lawmakers to get something done quickly. Currently, FDA does NOT have authority to order mandatory recalls and must negotiate recalls with the affected producers.

Both the House and Senate versions of the food safety bill would give FDA more authority to recall tainted products, increase inspections of food processors and require producers to follow stricter standards for keeping food safe.

Traditionally, the House and Senate convene a conference committee to iron out differences after both bodies pass a bill. The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure again on Monday, November 29.


Tags: Congress diseases food food safety government news