Food Safety Legislation, the Perils of Deliberation

By July 30, 2009General, Regulations

The Washington Post reports today that the House leadership’s attempt to quickly pass a food safety bill through the suspension calendar — no amendments, limited debate — failed when it supporters could not achieve the two-thirds majority required for passage under the rules.

The bill, H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, is a 134-page piece of legislation that imposes new inspection and safety requirements up and down the food-production chain. As the Post reports, “It also gives the FDA new power to set safety standards for growing and processing food and requires it to sharply increase inspections and enforcement. In turn, the agency would gain significant authority to contain outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has expressed its support for the general thrust of the legislation, noting in this June news release that the legislation contains many of the GMA’s food-safety proposals. Major farm groups are raising red flags, warning of unintended consequences and the possibility of the legislation actually making it harder to ensure food safety.

Of course, as a general matter, it’s almost impossible to oppose legislation that embraces “safety” or “safety enhancement” or “consumer product safety improvement.” But the widespread economic and individual harm caused by last year’s top “safety” bill, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, has encouraged people to look more closely at the food safety bill. Walter Olson at Overlawyered has been writing updates on the various food safety bills Congress has considered this year and the widespread unease they’ve caused, especially among small producers. (See this call to action.) The term, “CPSIA for food,” is enough to make one take notice.

House sponsors, which include Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), plan to bring the bill back up this week on regular order, meaning a more complete debate and only a simple majority will be required for passage. (It failed yesterday on a 280-150 vote.) Our fear is that the impetus for the bill comes from “consumer groups” and House members who, when presented with the idea the bill is indeed the “CPSIA for food,” they say, “Yeah, isn’t that great!”

P.S. It sure seems like there are an unusual number of substantive bills on the suspension calendar this week, along with saying Happy 50th, Hawaii.

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