Momentum stalls on food safety, Reid shelves bill over impasse

The momentum has stalled in the U.S. Senate behind a food safety bill that was fueled by the recall of more than half a million tainted eggs over the summer.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this morning he is shelving the legislation at least temporarily, and blamed Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for the impasse.  

 Coburn had served notice he would block the bill on the grounds it is not offset by cuts elsewhere, and so would increase the federal budget deficit. 

"If this was a priority for the majority, they would have already paid for it," Coburn’s spokesman John Hart told Politico. Coburn says the legislation will cost more than $1.6 billion over five years.

The Oklahoma Republican on his website detailed other problems he sees with the legislation.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, said earlier this week he thought the bill was close to being ready and could pass quickly. He backtracked this morning.

"We thought we finally had it worked out, we could come and take care of this," Reid said in a Senate speech. "But Senator Coburn has said no. We’ve spent a whole Congress on this and of course at the last minute he comes in and likely we will not be able to get this done before we go home for the elections.

"What a sad thing for our country. People are dying as a result of these problems with food. It is just a shame we can’t get this done."

Food safety advocates have lobbied Congress actively through the year, flying in victims of severe food poisoning, and the family members of those who died from eating tainted food.

Reid said he met with a dozen Nevadans who have eaten foods that made them sick.   One of them was Rylee Gustafson of Henderson, who was hospitalized as a 9-year-old in 2006 after eating contaminated spinach.

Pressure for reform mounted over the summer after more than 550 million eggs were recalled following a salmonella outbreak.

The pending bill would strengthen the police powers of the Food and Drug Administration to mandate recalls, enables it to hire more inspectors and requires more frequent inspections of food plants. It also requires food makers and processors to have control plans in place that address known problems.

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