What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Food and Drug Inspection & Funding the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) : S 510. (Overhauling food safety laws) Motion to begin debating a bill that would overhaul the nation’s food safety laws and expand the Food and Drug Administration’s enforcement powers/On the motion
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S 510. (Overhauling food safety laws) Motion to begin debating a bill that would overhaul the nation’s food safety laws and expand the Food and Drug Administration’s enforcement powers/On the motion
senate Roll Call 251     Nov 18, 2010
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This vote was on whether to begin debate on a bill that would overhaul the nation’s food safety laws and expand the enforcement powers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including allowing the agency to order food recalls and to more strictly oversee the safety of imported food.

Typically bills are brought to the floor of the Senate through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter.  However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he or she has to do is remove consent – which was the case with this bill.  Instead, the Democratic leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill.  However, the outcome of this vote was never particularly in doubt, since the key test vote had occurred immediately prior (see vote 250).

Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the bill is urgently needed and noted that the last time the FDA’s food-related laws were changed in any substantial way was in 1938.

“Think of how things have changed since that time: food coming in from all over the world. We think about all of the new producers and the new processing plants and the new kinds of food we have that weren’t available in 1938. An overhaul of the food safety system is long overdue, and so is the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Food safety reform should have passed Congress and should have been signed into law months ago,” Klobuchar said.  “I have stood in this Chamber many times saying the same thing. Each time, each month, something new comes up where people get hurt or people die. Whether it is jalapeno peppers or peanut butter or more recently eggs, these outbreaks of food borne illness and nationwide recalls of contaminated food highlight the need to better protect our Nation’s food supply. We need to fix it.”

Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the bill’s authors are “very well intended” in terms of what they want the outcomes of the bill to be, and that some portions of the bill are laudable.  But he said that it would simply cost too much to implement, for too little gain.  Additionally, Coburn suggested that in the end, the bill’s costs will be passed on to American consumers, who already are struggling in tough economic times. 

“There are some facts we ought to be realistic about. We could spend $100 billion additionally every year and not make food absolutely safe. There are diminishing returns to the dollars we spend. But if you look at what the case is: In 1996, for every 100,000 people in this country, we had 51.2 cases of food borne illness—the best in the world, by far. Nobody comes close to us in terms of the safety of our food. But, in 2009, we only had 34.8 cases—three times better than anybody else in the world. So the question has to be asked: Why are we doing this now when, in fact, we are on a trend line to markedly decrease it?” Coburn said.  “There are a lot of things in this bill that I agree with—a lot. I think foreign food ought to be inspected before it comes into this country and I think those who want to sell products in this country ought to have to demonstrate the quality of it and I think the cost of that ought to be on the person selling the food, not on the American taxpayer. But ultimately that cost will be added to the cost of the food.”

By a vote of 57-27, the motion to begin debating the bill was adopted.  Every Democrat present voted to begin debating the bill.  Of Republicans present, all but four voted against opening debate on the bill.  The end result is that the Senate officially opened debate on a bill that would tighten food safety laws and expand the FDA’s enforcement authority.

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