After all the fuss, after the flurry of debate (some of which occurred right here on Grist), S. 510 — the Food Safety Modernization Act — has passed the Senate, by a margin of nearly 3-to-1. That’s a rare level of consensus in this polarized age.
As for me, I am ambivalently happy about the outcome. I described my reservations about these new turns in food-safety policy here.
Now the legislation heads back to the House, which passed its version of a food-safety bill back in 2009. The House’s version is considered tougher on the food industry. For example, the House bill would have companies chip in a fee to offset part of the cost of increased inspection, while the Senate bill gives them a free ride on that front. (Food and Water Watch’s Elanor Starmer has a handy rundown of the House bill.)
So what happens now? The Hill reports:
The two versions could be reconciled in conference talks, but time is running out. The lame-duck session has a full agenda, including the debate on extending the Bush-era tax cuts; the passage of a budget or a continuing resolution in order to keep the government funded; and a vote on the defense authorization bill, which includes a provision to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
If food-safety reconciliation gets lost in the shuffle of those headline-grabbing topics and the House fails to get to it in the lame-duck session, then the bill will collapse. The new Congress would have to start from scratch. That would likely deal a death blow to food-safety reform prospects for the foreseeable future.
That’s why advocates are hoping that the House takes the quickest path to passing the bill: simply voting yea or nay on the Senate version, which is precisely how health-care reform passed last spring.