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Food-Safety Bill Backed by House, Moves to Enactment

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The biggest U.S. food-safety overhaul in more than 70 years won passage in the House of Representatives, clearing the way for President Barack Obama to sign the measure into law.

The Food and Drug Administration will gain more power to police domestic and international food companies under the bill that passed today in a 215-144 vote. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Consumers Union are among groups that backed the legislation.

The measure adds inspections and requires most food producers to develop hazard prevention plans. It also gives the FDA the authority to force recalls, rather than relying on companies to voluntarily pull tainted foods from store shelves. The bill was prompted in part by recalls of cookie dough, spinach, jalapenos and salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed at least nine people and sickened more than 700 in 2008 and 2009.

“For too long, the cornerstone of our food-safety system, the FDA, has had only ancient tools and an outdated mandate at its disposal,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said before the vote. “This bill will go a long way toward stemming the potential of a full-blown foodborne epidemic in the future.”

The legislation would cost about $1.4 billion over five years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. A previous version cleared the Senate last month before a technical error led lawmakers to consider a revised bill.

Illness Tally

Foodborne germs sicken almost 48 million people in the U.S. each year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Such illnesses cost the U.S. economy $152 billion a year in health care and related expenses, according to a March report by Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project in Washington.

The bill’s passage is “a big victory for consumers that finally brings food-safety laws into the 21st century,” Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at the Yonkers, New York-based Consumers Union, said today in an e-mail. “This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington at mpeterson9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adriel Bettelheim at abettelheim@bloomberg.net

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