Food Safety Dies With Spending Bill

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Tea partiers can’t exactly take credit for it, but it looks like the landmark food safety bill passed earlier this month that they fought bitterly isn’t going to make it to the president’s desk after all.

Earlier this month, Congress managed to pass the bill with strong bipartisan support—and over the objections of both tea partiers afraid the bill would send the government after their seeds and leftie foodie types who feared the bill would squash small farms and artisanal cheese makers. The bill was a decade in the making, despite record numbers of food borne illness outbreaks, from E. coli in spinach to salmonella in peanut butter that killed nine people. A day after the bill passed, however, news broke that language in the bill had been screwed up, rendering it unconstitutional.

Supporters had hoped that a repaired bill would still land on the president’s desk this year if it could pass along with a big omnibus spending bill slated for a vote this week. But after Republicans defected in the face of pressure from tea party activists opposed to $8 billion in earmarks buried in the bill, Democrats were forced to withdraw the spending measure, taking the food safety bill along with it. Democrats also tried attaching the food safety bill to a continuing resolution that would have funded the federal government until September. But Republicans have also opposed that measure, leaving Democrats with a scaled-down resolution that would merely keep the government open until February, when the new Congress can deal with the rest of the issues.

Unfortunately, there is no food safety bill in that measure, meaning that unless Democrats come up with another strategy to pass it in the next 24 hours, it’s likely to be dead in the water. Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents the victims of food poisoning, was here in DC this week lobbying for the bill’s passage. He’s been working on it for years and thought the fight was finally over. Now he’s not hopeful that it will ever pass. “I can’t see of a way to get it done … It’s sort of mind-numbing to me that a bill that passed with more [votes] than it would take to make a treaty, in both houses, a bill that had that much support is dying because of what it comes down to is power politics,” he says.

As if to drive home the need for the bill, Marler says he woke up this morning in DC only to learn that there’s been an E. coli outbreak stemming from cheese made with raw milk, some of the very products crying out for better regulation. “It’s not like I’m not going to be out of work,” he laments.

UPDATE: The bill unexpectedly passed on Sunday. Read more here.

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