Tuesday marked a victory for the U.S. food safety system in its more than 70-year history.
The House of Representatives passed legislation that would help increase inspections and give regulators power to recall tainted foods. The House voted 215-144 to pass a food safety bill that has already been passed by the Senate. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure into law, which he has shown support for in the past.
“This is an opportunity that will not come again for a long time,” Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told MSNBC. “There is no question that this is a good bill, and that it will provide (the Food and Drug Administration) with some critical new authorities.”
An interest in reforming the food safety system has been on the rise since 2006, when high-profile breakouts of salmonella and contamination hit popular foods, such as lettuce, eggs, spinach, and peanuts, consumed by Americans. These breakouts sickened thousands across the nation and raised questions about the safety measures surrounding America’s food supply. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illnesses from contaminated food affect nearly 48 million people in the U.S. each year and kills 3,000.
If Obama signs the bill into law, this legislation would be the largest overhaul to the U.S. food safety system since 1939, when Congress granted FDA the authority to oversee the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics.
“This is a big victory for consumers that finally brings food-safety laws into the 21st century,” Jean Halloran, the director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, said. “For a long time, we’ve been saying that we needed to do a better job of making sure our food is safe, and under this bill, we will.”
Some Republicans opposed the bill, claiming that it would lead to higher food prices for consumers, which is not enough to justify the $1.4 billion cost of implementation.
“This legislation is the product of a flawed process,” Frank Lucas, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said. “It gives the Food and Drug Administration lots of additional authorities with no accountability.”