Senate should quit stalling on food-safety legislation

September 27, 2010

It has been more than a century since The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's stomach-turning expose on unsanitary conditions in Chicago's meatpacking industry, sparked an uproar that helped lead to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.
We've come a long way since then, but a recent string of foodborne illness outbreaks, including this summer's massive recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, is proof that there are still too many holes in the system tasked with keeping our food supply safe.
That's why we urge the Senate to pass the long-stalled Food Safety Modernization Act.
The measure, co-authored by Sen. Dick Durbin, would increase the frequency of inspections at food facilities, improve tracking of raw fruits and vegetables in the event of an outbreak and allow the FDA to order mandatory recalls of tainted food products.
The House passed its version of the bill more than a year ago. But the Senate version has been held up by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), whose main beef is that the bill isn't paid for.
An attempt last week to move the measure forward for a vote stalled again, leaving its future in doubt.
As Coburn points out, this bill does nothing to streamline the patchwork of regulatory agencies that monitor food safety, a problem that needs to be addressed in future legislation.
But the FDA, which is responsible for monitoring 80 percent of our nation's food supply, at least will get more of the tools it needs to better identify and respond to problems.
This is the rare bill in today's politically polarized Washington that enjoys broad bipartisan support. It merits quick passage.