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Pioneer Editorial: Bill ensures U.S. food safety reform

Now fresh off its Thanksgiving break, the U.S. Senate will soon take a vote in the lame duck session on the Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill that has wide bipartisan support and offers the first major update to food safety laws in more than 70 years.

It is a bill that needs swift passage to provide that our food supply is subject to the strictest regulation to ensure it remains the safest in the world.

We've had enough trouble spots in recent years, from hamburger to eggs, and Congress has been at work on food safety legislation. The Food Safety Modernization Act is the byproduct of that work, and is a good start to bring United States food safety protections up to 21st century standards.

The act is strongly supported by the food industry as well as the public health and consumer protection communities. It would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to mandate a recall of contaminated food -- an authority that does not now exist for the FDA under current law -- and would greatly increase the inspection frequency of businesses that process food. In a key provision, the act would also improve oversight of imported foods by requiring that imported food meet the same safety standards as food produced in the United States..

There is controversy over a proposed amendment to exempt the smallest producers from the act, but it only makes sense that onerous federal regulations should not reach the small producers with limited regional markets. Still, they should abide by minimum food safety standards.

The bill would establish science-based minimum standards for safe agricultural production of fresh produce and direct FDA to consult with the U.S. Agriculture Department and state agriculture departments on regulations to prevent the contamination of fresh produce.

Curbing the threat to public safety is only one reason for the bill; it also will help save health care money. A report by the Produce Safety Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that health-related foodborne illness costs in the United States some $152 billion annually.

The U.S. House passed its version of food safety reforms in 2009; now it's time for the Senate to follow suit.