A year and a half after it was passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (SB510) by a 73-25 margin. The bill has to be brought into line with the House’s version before President Obama can sign it into law, but food-safety advocates have hailed it as “the most important food-safety legislation in a generation.”
The bill would produce a major shift of regulatory power, granting the FDA power to oversee farming and track and recall food products–while giving the agency the authority to conduct more safety inspections on farms, slaughterhouses, and processing plants, etc.
So what does the legislation mean to the average American consumer? Here’s a quick list of the direct effects it may have on all of us:
1. Slightly higher food costs. Critics of the bill, both on the left and the right, have argued that food producers will pass on the higher costs of stricter regulation to consumers.
2. Selling and sharing food from your small garden. Opponents have suggested that the bill would basically outlaw the sale and distribution of fruits and vegetables grown in backyard gardens. This is not the case. As SB510 is currently worded, small growers who sell their goods at food coops, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, etc., wouldn’t have to register with the FDA, although they will need to comply with whatever state and local food laws are in effect.
3. Enhanced public health: Seventy-six million Americans are stricken with some sort of preventable food-borne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Advocates of the new bill say that eliminating these outbreaks will save lives and health care costs each year.
4. Peace of mind: In the wake of recent recalls of eggs, spinach, pistachios, peanut butter, and milk many Americans are increasingly worried about serious health risks from large-scale corporate agriculture.
5. A functional Congress: For the first time in recent memory, the bill fostered a strong bipartisan effort between Republicans and Democrats to do something about a problem that touches just about every American. The New York Times reported that some of the Senate staffers from both parties involved in the negotiations had never even met previous to working on SB510.
So safer food makes for happier, healthier bodies–and greater bipartisanship. Perhaps the next Slurpee Summit in Washington should feature wheatgrass smoothies!
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