"Debate has been fierce over the specifics of the bill, but the general consensus seems to be that some change is better than none."

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[Flickr: captaincinema]

After talks that dragged late into the night on Monday, the Senate voted Tuesday morning on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The sweeping bill includes provisions to enhance the regulatory powers of the Food and Drug Administration. Despite critiques from across the political spectrum, the Act passed 73 to 25.

As we've covered before, the act necessitates more frequent inspections of "high-risk" food processing and manufacturing plants. It also grants the FDA full recall authority over possibly contaminated foods—currently, the FDA must appeal to producers to pull their own potentially unsafe products off grocery store shelves.

The bill faced opposition from many Republicans who question whether the government has the funding for delegating increased FDA responsibility. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was among the most outspoken opponents, and in fact proposed an alternative bill.

But negative feedback has also come from small farmers and food producers, who fear that increased inspection could have far greater impact on their businesses than on larger corporations.

Interestingly, large-scale food manufacturers have signed on in support of the bill. Gardiner Harris commented that these companies have been most acutely affected by recalls in recent years. One small producer's contaminated spinach leads to a nation-wide spinach scare, and consumers recoil from the produce. So increased inspection of plants would mean that a dirty producer could be held accountable, production halted, and the consumer scare avoided.

Despite backlash against the bill, its passage meant much bipartisan support. At its core, this bill is a response to consumer outcries against food contamination. Debate has been fierce over the specifics of the bill, but the general consensus seems to be that some change is better than none.

Before the bill can head to President Obama for passage, it must be reconciled with the House version of the bill that passed last year. This process is often lengthy and burdensome.

Some worry that the bill will not be reconciled before the winter recess, and that it could continue to languish in Congress indefinitely. While this concern is certainly warranted, there's an encouraging flurry of media attention being paid to the bill this week. Hopefully the reconciliation and signing process won't break this momentum of food safety reform, and we can look forward to a new year of better food regulation.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.

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