Food Fight: Senate Still Stuck In Food Safety Stalemate

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

For 15 months now, a bill to boost the nation’s food safety has been languishing in the US Senate.

In the wake of this summer’s massive egg recall, you might have thought that now they’d finally get around to passing the bill. But you’d have been wrong.

The Senate stalemate was on full display Wednesday while across Capitol Hill a hearing on the egg recall took place in the House. At that House hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, pleaded with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, to stop blocking the bill.

“Please lift your hold and allow this vital safety legislation to move forward,” Waxman urged Coburn, who wants the bill to be fully paid for. It’s currently estimated to add $1.5 billion to the deficit.

Hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor to try to reach a unanimous consent agreement to advance the bill with a defined amendment process.

“There’s no excuse to wait any longer,” Reid said. “Let’s move this common-sense bill and pass it.”

To do so, Reid needed every lawmaker to agree to his request, including Coburn. But to no one’s surprise, Coburn objected.

“We now have a bill that’s going to cost the American public $1.5 billion over the next five years and it doesn’t fix the real problem – and the real problem is the lack of focus of the agencies to do their job,” Coburn said.

Coburn told Reid that he would only agree to move forward with the bill if the $1.5 billion cost was eliminated by offsets written into the bill itself, rather than subjected to specific votes during the amendment process. Coburn also wanted to remove an amendment that would ban the chemical bisphenol A from children’s food and drink containers. Reid said he’d think about it.

But once again, the Senate has ended up back at square one – deadlocked on food safety. And at the moment, there’s no end in sight.

That is infuriating news for millions of Americans who are waiting for the Senate to pass the bill that emerged from the House a whopping 15 months ago. The bill would help prevent massive outbreaks of tainted food by giving the Food & Drug Administration the authority to order mandatory recalls and require more frequent inspections of high-risk food processing plants.

According to Robert Scharff, a former FDA regulator, food-borne illnesses cost the country $152 billion every year. A study conducted by Scharff determined that government figures show that there are around 76 million food-borne illnesses each year. Those illnesses result in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

Despite those staggering figures, the Senate is still stuck. It’s enough to make you sick.

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