This was a vote on passage of H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Among the provisions of the legislation, as described by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, was a requirement that every food facility implement a food safety plan; that the Department of Health and Human Services issue rules to minimize the hazards from food-born contaminants which are based on actual testing and observations, establish standards for raw agricultural commodities using results from previous inspections, examine facilities based on a schedule that uses historical statistics to determine the likelihood of contamination, create a program for accreditation of laboratories that perform tests of food for import or export, and form a group of inspectors dedicated to inspections of foreign food facilities. The bill also created new protections for “whistleblowers”, or industry or department insiders who report improper behavior.
Rep. Dingell (D-MI), who was among the leading supporters of the bill, noted that it also gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “both the authority and the funds to address not only American foods but foods being imported . . . .” H.R.2749 was supported by the Centers for Science and Public Interest, Consumers Union, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a large industry group.
The reasons for opposition to the bill were expressed by Rep. Lucas (R-OK), who referred to it as “another example of Federal power without the benefit of careful consideration.” He first objected to the procedure under which it was handled, criticizing the House Agriculture Committee chairman for not asking to review it and “make improvements” before it was brought to the House floor, although that committee had “a clear jurisdictional claim”.
Then Lucas said “this is not just a matter of jurisdiction . . . .”He singled out for “particular concern” the federal mandate in H.R. 2749 “that the Food and Drug Administration set on-farm production performance standards. For the first time, we would have the Federal Government prescribing how our farmers grow crops (although) . . . We have been doing it for a very long time, and we have been doing it without the FDA.” Lucas also argued that the bill “leaves our nation's fruit and vegetable producers subject to objectionable regulatory burdens.” In addition, he claimed: “(N)ew quarantine authorities for FDA will undermine animal and plant inspection control programs that have been in place at the Department of Agriculture for decades.”
Lucas concluded his remarks by saying: “(T)he vast majority of these provisions, along with new penalties, record-keeping requirements, traceability, labeling, country-of-origin labeling, will do absolutely nothing to prevent food-borne disease outbreaks, but will do plenty to keep the Federal bureaucracy busy.”
The legislation did not pass. The vote was taken under a House procedure whereby the usual rules are suspended and debate is limited. This procedure requires a two-thirds vote for passage, rather than the usual majority. The vote was 280-150. Two hundred and thirty Democrats and fifty Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred twenty-seven Republicans and twenty-three Democrats voted “nay”. But, since the two-thirds vote required under this procedure was not achieved, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 was not approved. Supporters of the legislation still had the opportunity to bring the bill up under regular House procedures, where it would pass with a simple majority.