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Pioneer Editorial: Food safety overhaul soon law

Congress will adjourn for the year after accomplishing a number of major legislative hallmarks, but one in particular promises the first major overhaul, of food safety measures in nearly a century.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, in trouble as part of larger bills, was allowed a stand-alone vote and passed the Senate this week, sending it to the House where it passed on a 215-144 vote, then sending it to President Barack Obama who is expected to sign it by year's end.

The new law will provide much-needed food security measures, bringing U.S. food safety provisions up to the 21st century to ensure that America's abundant food supply is also the safest in the world.

A key provision was authored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., which improves the ability of federal, state and local officials to detect and quickly trace outbreaks back to their source. It is modeled after Minnesota's successful model where the state Department of Agriculture and Department of Health teamed with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, whose work last year quickly found the source of a Salmonella outbreak as tainted peanut butter from a plant in Georgia.

The overall bill will strengthen the role of the Food and Drug Administration to inspect processing plants and the ability to order a recall if a tainted product is found. At $1.4 billion, it will also beef up inspectors and others needed to ensure that food safety measures are implemented and followed.

The new measure stresses prevention by giving the government authority to set food safety standards for farmers and processors, rather than current law which steps in once an outbreak occurs.

The bill also protects small farmers and producers who market directly to consumers by exemption those with less than $500,000 annual revenue.

The bill also extends safety measures for domestic products to imported products, so consumers know the food they eat that is imported from foreign nations is also safe.

The new law which works with the FDA, plus meat inspections by the Department of Agriculture, will go a long ways in keeping American food safe through all the steps from the farm to the dinner table.