Food-safety bill running out of time

12:40 PM, Sep 13, 2010   |    comments
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MAPLE GROVE, Minn. -- If a bill that would reform the Food and Drug Administration does not pass by the end of this session of Congress, it will need to start all over next year. 

Such fears prompted Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat co-sponsoring the bill, to call for passage in the next few weeks.

"We cannot afford any more delays," she said at a Sunday news conference, held in the middle of a Cub Foods store in Maple Grove.  (SUPERVALU, which owns Cub and many other grocery retailers, supports passing the bill.)

Known as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the bill would increase food inspections at all facilities and give the FDA mandatory recall authority, a power it does not have now.

The plan would also created more centers to investigate foodborne illnesses.  Those centers would be modeled after Minnesota's "Team Diarrhea," a group that quickly and thoroughly looks into every reported case of foodborne illness in Minnesota.

RELATED: Team Diarrhea: A model for investigating foodborne illness

The House passed a version of the bill more than 13 months ago, but the full Senate, which has been occupied by health care and Wall Street reforms this year, has not yet voted on the bill.

"I stood up in front of about 50 senators before we left for August and I said, 'OK, we're delaying this again, but I promise you something is going to happen in August. People are going to get sick and then we will revisit this again,'" Klobuchar said.

Half a billion eggs were then recalled after a salmonella outbreak sickened about 1500 people last month.

Jeff Almer, whose mother was killed nearly two years ago during a massive salmonella outbreak caused by tainted peanut butter, has been pushing for reforms.  He has traveled to Washington, D.C. several times, including last week, to speak with lawmakers about the FDA reforms.  Almer hopes the recent egg recall will motivate senators to approve the bill.

"They need to make the time," Almer said.  "I know there's not a lot of time to do things, but these are people's lives at stake here."

Klobuchar said a few issues have slowed down the bill's passage, including concerns by some small farms that feel reforms might be too costly and burdensome for them.  Lawmakers recently came up with an amendment to address some of those concerns.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is also offering a controversial amendment that would ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a plastic additive.

"We are working on that," Klobuchar said Sunday.  "She says she does not in any way want to hold up this bill."

Almer fears if the bill not pass before this session of Congress ends, it may never pass.

"Some experts out there that I've worked with said they don't even believe it will get to this point again in the next Congress," he said.  "This is it."

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