Zombie handGive Congress a hand.Photo: Dabe MurphyIt’s baaaaack … to the Senate.

The historic Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) triumphed in the Senate (vote: 73-25) last week after advocates settled a bitter dispute over its effect on small farms. (Well, we thought they settled it. Turns out there’s still controversy over that, so we’ve reconvened our weary Food Fight participants to try and sort out the truth — stay tuned.) 

A funny thing happened on the way to the House, which was expected to approve the bill this week and clear its way to passage. Turns out, the Senate bill contained a clause that technically violates the Constitution, voiding the recent vote.

Food Safety News’ Helena Bottemiller reports that the bills’ authors erred by “including a provision that would allow the FDA to impose fees on importers, and on companies whose food is recalled because of contamination.” The problem: “Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution says all revenue-raising measures must originate in the House.” Oops!

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Under normal circumstances, the Senate would merely remove the troublesome language, redo the vote, and let the episode fade into obscurity. But in the current lame-duck Congressional session, both chambers have packed schedules: “don’t ask don’t tell,” Bush tax cuts, and more. Plus you’ve got Republicans eager to scuttle any legislation that would seem to give President Obama a victory.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), who tried vigorously to thwart the bill before the last vote, now gets another crack at killing it. Coburn “supports a recall of the tainted food safety bill,” his communications director told The Los Angeles Times.

And Senate Democrats aren’t eager to devote the time necessary to bringing the bill back to a floor vote, Bottemiller reports. If they don’t, the bill will expire; and the next Congress will have to start from scratch on any food safety reform.

“If they don’t find a way, you won’t see a food safety bill for a decade,” attorney Bill Marler, who sues food companies on behalf of victims of food-borne illness, told the L.A. Times. “It’ll be toast.”

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