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Senate passes bill to boost food safety

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate has passed legislation to make food safer in the wake of deadly E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, potentially giving the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food.

The $1.4 billion bill, which would also place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate 73-25. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks in peanuts, eggs and produce.

Those outbreaks have exposed a lack of resources and authority at the FDA as the embattled agency struggled to contain and trace the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects many food facilities and farms, visiting some every decade or so and others not at all.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

NEWS RELEASE FROM SENATOR HAGAN'S OFFICE REGARDING THE VOTE:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEWS RELEASE) – U.S. Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) this morning supported the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes a key amendment she and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) sponsored to protect small farmers from new government regulations. The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 25, gives the Food and Drug Administration more authority to inspect processing facilities and to conduct food recalls. The House is likely to vote on the Senate version later this week.

“I have worked with Senator Tester for months to include a critical amendment that excludes small producers from new government red tape,” Hagan said. “We successfully fought for our farmers. Jobs are my number one priority, and this amendment protects jobs in our agriculture industry, which employs nearly one-fifth of North Carolina’s workers. This bill now strikes the right balance between preventing food-borne illnesses and ensuring our nation’s farmers can stay in business.”

Under the Tester-Hagan amendment, small producers will continue to be regulated at the state and local level. The amendment applies to small producers who earn $500,000 or less in annual sales and sell most of their food directly to consumers, local restaurants or retailers within a 275-mile radius or within the same state.

Hagan also included a provision in the bill to help farmers who suffer losses due to erroneous recalls. For instance, North Carolina tomato growers suffered when the Food and Drug Administration mistakenly cited tomatoes following a salmonella outbreak when the problem turned out to be a pepper farm in Mexico. Consumer demand for tomatoes dropped 50 to 60 percent. Hagan’s provision will require the government to evaluate ways to appropriately compensate farmers when a recall is determined to be erroneous.

Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry, generating $74 billion in economic activity.

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