After falling short of a two-thirds majority Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed the "Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009" in a new vote that needed just a simple majority.
The total vote count was 283 for and 142 against, with democrats supporting it by a margin of 229 to 20, and Republicans voting 54 for and 122 against.
The final bill included some compromises supported by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and other agricultural organizations. Most importantly, according to NCBA, the final bill clarifies that livestock are exempt from the Food and Drug Administration's regulation under the bill-- including on-farm inspections and additional authorities that are currently under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The committees also made several other improvements, including clarifications to the bill's traceability and record-keeping provisions.
A Washington Post article outlines some key provisions of the House bill. FDA inspections will increase from about once every 10 years to at least annually for high-risk food facilities and every three years for lower-risk facilities. The bill would allow FDA to mandate food recalls, rather than relying on food companies to pull items voluntarily, and importers would need to meet the same food-safety standards as domestic producers.
One provision of concern to small food companies is that FDA would require processors, importers and other food handlers to register annually and pay a yearly fee of $500 to help fund the inspection program. The compromise bill provides exemptions for some farmers who sell products directly to consumers or retailers.
The debate will continue as the Senate prepares to address the issue later this fall.