WASHINGTON - The House, reacting to recent E. coli and salmonella outbreaks in produce, peanuts, and eggs, on Wednesday passed major legislation to make food safer.
The bill would give the government powers to increase inspections of food-processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food. The House is sending the bill to the Senate as part of a giant year-end budget bill.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the food-safety measure last week, but it stalled after House Democrats said it contained fees that are considered tax provisions and, thus, under the Constitution, must originate in the House.
By sending the measure back to the Senate tucked in the spending bill that must be passed by the end of the year, Democrats are hoping to discourage any new GOP objections to the food-safety bill. Republican opponents had delayed its initial passage in the Senate for months.
The budget bill narrowly passed the House, 212-206.
The $1.4 billion food bill would place stricter standards on imported foods. It also would require large producers to keep detailed food-safety plans and follow stricter safety standards.
"All manner of unsafe commodities are coming in and being sold to the American people. This legislation will cure and address those problems," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D., Mich.), the sponsor of a House version of the bill passed in 2009.
Recent outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella exposed a lack of resources and authority at the Food and Drug Administration as the agency struggled to trace the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects many food facilities and farms, visiting some only every decade or so and others not at all.
Farmers and food processors now would have to tell the FDA how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production.
The bill passed the Senate, 73-25, with bipartisan support Nov. 30. But Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had blocked it for months, saying he was delaying passage because its costs would increase the deficit.
On Wednesday, several House Republicans objected to the bill's inclusion in the spending legislation.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Frank Lucas, incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, wrote colleagues saying the process wasn't open to members who had objections. Lucas and other rural Republicans criticized the bill when it was passed by the House in 2009, saying the new FDA oversight would be burdensome for farmers.