Organic Consumers Association

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Food-safety Bill Stalled; Stabenow Named Senate Ag Chair

Watching C-Span's live coverage of the Senate deliberations yesterday over the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) is enough to make me long for a dictatorship to move things along. I mean really, would it kill Congress to computerize its voting?

As of Thursday morning, chances had looked good for passing S. 510, which considering we haven't updated our food-safety laws since 1938, would have been a step forward. Consumer protection groups had made a deal with the sustainable agriculture camp to revise the Tester-Hagan small-farm amendment enough to get it included in the Manager's amendment to the bill, meaning if S. 510 passed, then both the Republican and Democrat sides had agreed to that the smallest farms and processors should be regulated appropriate to their size.

Debbie StabenowDebbie Stabenow (D.-Mich.) is the new chair of the Senate agriculture committee.And then the speeches -- and the shenanigans -- began. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) decided that now would be a great time to stick in amendments about banning earmarks and the health care act, respectively. That this would almost complete undo a year's worth of work over S. 510 obviously doesn't bother Coburn, who said in his speech that he doesn't believe we have a food-safety crisis, that we have the safest food in the world, and that the FDA and the USDA are doing a bang-up job of protecting Americans. Except, he explained, they don't really have to, because the invisible hand is keeping us all safe: companies gladly recall their contaminated products because uh, death is bad for business. Senator Coburn conveniently has forgotten the part where Peanut Corp. of America elected to ship its peanut butter even after salmonella tests came back positive. Death is only bad for business if the lawyers can trace the poison back to you.

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