Friday, November 19, 2010

US Senate's Convoluted Food Safety Roadmap

Senior legislative body suffering from motion sickness

As a layperson who is trying to follow the so-called progress of the Food Safety Modernization Act ("S510") through the Senate, I can only echo Yul Brynner in The King and I. "It's a puzzlement!"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) tried to bring S510 to a vote this week, to no avail. For those who are still scratching their collective heads over the significance of the votes taken on November 17th and 18th, here's what happened.

First, there was a motion to proceed with the consideration of S510.

Next, there was a motion to invoke cloture in order to limit debate on the motion to proceed with S510. The motion to invoke cloture was approved on November 17th, with 74 senators voting in favor.

Following some additional debate on the original motion to proceed, the Senate voted yesterday (November 18th) to proceed with the bill – on November 29th, after the Thanksgiving recess. The vote was 57 in favor and 27 opposed, with 16 senators not voting.

What will happen on November 29th? This is what has been agreed to, in the Senate's own words:
Ordered, That at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, November 29, 2010, the Senate proceed to vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Amdt. No. 4175 (sic), a substitute amendment to S. 510, a bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to the safety of the food supply; provided, that if cloture is invoked on the substitute amendment, then all post-cloture time be yielded back except for the time specified in this agreement with the debate limits as specified:

Johanns motion to suspend with respect to Amdt. No. 4702 and Baucus motion to suspend with respect to Amdt. No. 4713—60 minutes total debate equally divided and controlled between Senators Johanns and Baucus;

Coburn motion to suspend with respect to Amdt. No. 4696 (substitute), and Coburn motion to suspend with respect to Amdt. No. 4697 (earmarks)—4 hours total debate equally divided between Senators Coburn and Inouye.

Ordered further, That upon the use or yielding back of time the Senate proceed to vote with respect to the motions to suspend in the order listed:
Johanns; Baucus; Coburn (earmarks); Coburn (substitute).

Ordered further, That if any motion is successful, the Senate vote immediately on the amendment and that upon disposition of all motions and amendments, no further motions or amendments be in order and the substitute amendment, as amended, if amended, be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time; and that after reading the pay-go statement with respect to the bill, the Senate proceed to passage of the bill and the cloture motion with respect to the bill be withdrawn.

Ordered further, That the mandatory quorums required under Rule XXII be waived. (Nov. 18, 2010.)

And this means?
  • Amendment 4715 (there's a typo in the Senate wording) is the latest compromise version of S510, including exempting small producers from some of the provisions of the Act (the Tester Amendment). The first step will be a cloture vote on Amendment 4715. If this fails, all bets are off.
  • The Senate has agreed to consider competing amendments proposed by Senators Johanns (R-Neb) and Baucus (D-Mont). These amendments (4702 and 4713, respectively) seek to repeal a provision of the health care law, which was passed a few months ago. This has nothing to do with food safety, but the senators want to piggyback the repeal onto S510.
  • The Senate has agreed to consider two Amendments (#4696 and 4697) proposed by Senator Coburn (R-Okla). The first of these pulls most of the teeth out of S510 – maybe it's good that the Senator is a doctor, and not a dentist! Amendment #4697 declares a moratorium on "earmarks" for the 2011 through 2013 fiscal years – nothing to do with food safety.
  • Finally, if everything goes according to plan, there will be a vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act.

If S510 passes the Senate, it will then return to the House of Representatives for another vote (since the Senate version is different from the bill passed by the House more than one year ago). Assuming that the House accepts the Senate version of the bill without further amendment before the end of this year, the bill with go to the President for signature.

Will it pass? My gut says "yes."

Will it have been worth the effort? I don't know – It's a puzzlement!

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update.

    I hope your gut is wrong as I have no question that S 510 will largely stop the improvements that are being made in food safety for, at least, 3 - 5 years. Why? It’s simple. Those of us who grow, pack, process, store and distribute food—locally or globally—will have to spend a very large amount of our time wading around an endless swamp of rulemaking and spending huge amounts of money to make certain we are in compliance with the new rules. We won't have time to develop new ideas on how to improve food safety. It has already cost me almost all of 16 months of my work life and our business has been hurt by my lack of attention.

    And unfortunately, very few of those rules will improve food safety because they will be so strongly shaped by a legislated HACCP-style approach that Dr. William Sperber showed way back in December 2002 doesn't deliver what it promises. See his paper, "HACCP does not work from farm to table."

    Anyone who can’t locate the paper can write me for a digital copy at I’ll also happily discuss the particular of the bills with anyone who wants to better understand it or try to convince me I’m wrong.


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