In all the acrimony that has settled over Washington, one major legislative matter has continued to receive bipartisan support: food safety legislation intended to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration vastly expanded powers to reduce the amount of contaminated food getting into distribution.
Highly publicized outbreaks over the last few years involving everything from spinach to peanut butter to ground beef to eggs have only seemed to heighten the support from consumer groups and the media alike. Grist contributor Elanor Starmer last week argued that we have a serious food safety problem only this legislation can resolve. The proposed legislation, strongly encouraged by the Obama administration, sailed through the U.S. House last fall, and then through a Senate committee earlier this year.
And then the legislation stalled. First, there were concerns that the legislation, by requiring that all food producers put together complex production and hazard control plans (known as HACCP Plans), would have a draconian effect on small food producers, despite the fact that the most sensational of the tainted-food problems seemed to originate with mid-size and large producers. So Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) helped put together an amendment that would exempt small producers from some of the toughest provisions.
Then, in September, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who’s a big supporter of the legislation, prepared to bring it to the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) strenuously objected. One of his primary objections — that the legislation hadn’t been funded with the approximately $1.8 billion necessary to pay for all the new agents required to enforce it — made it seem as if partisan politics had made it even to this seemingly sacrosanct legislative initiative.