House approves food safety bill
The House on Tuesday gave final approval to a landmark food safety bill designed to update the system for protecting the nation’s food supply and equip the Food and Drug Administration with the tools needed to monitor a complex supply chain that stretches around the world.
President Obama was scheduled to sign the measure into law almost immediately.
But the historic effort may run into trouble next year over an old problem — money.
The current bill does not establish a secure funding system, and Republicans, who will soon have control of the House and expanded numbers in the Senate, have made cutting government spending a high priority.
Food safety supporters say it could be a slog to get Congress to approve the estimated $1.4 billion needed over the next five years to hire new inspectors and pay for other elements of the legislation.
“In a bad economy, with the kind of budget constraints we’re going to be under, I think that’s a risk,” said William Marler, a food safety attorney from Seattle who represents people sickened by tainted food. “I think it’s going to be all about whether the coalition that pushed this bill through is going to be able to stick together for more money.”
That coalition is unusually broad, made up not only of food safety and consumer groups but also major food industry lobbying groups.
Food interests have been hit hard by the cost of major recalls in recent years and have accepted greater government regulation as the price for fewer recalls and improved consumer confidence.
But some members of the informal coalition are uneasy about handing more power to federal regulators.
“It’s a very unusual situation to have both consumers and the private sector pulling in the same direction,” said David Acheson, the FDA’s top food safety official until mid-2009. “It’s going to be interesting to see if that coalition can hold together.”