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Senate clears bill to tighten food safety. Will House go along?

Food Safety Modernization Act passed the Senate Tuesday on a bipartisan vote. The legislation, which gives the US added powers to inspect and recall, moves to the House, where hurdles remain, especially over cost.

Recently harvested acreage on a central Indiana farm, is shown in this photo. The US Senate on Tuesday passed the most sweeping food safety bill in 70 years, 73 to 25. The bill would require the FDA to regularly inspect farms and food processing facilities.

ZUMA Press/Newscom

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The US Senate on Tuesday passed the most sweeping food safety bill in 70 years, 73 to 25, setting up what could be a tough fight in the House over the legislation's cost and reach.

The food safety measure would beef up funding for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by $1.5 billion over five years, for the first time giving the regulatory agency authority to issue food recalls and new ways to inspect food processors who sell more than $500,000 in products a year. In the wake of several high-profile tainted-food cases, the law is intended to allow regulators to pounce on food-borne threats instead of reacting to them once they've hit the American population.

But the bill's price tag, its exclusion of smaller local processors, and critics' concerns about over-regulation by a new army of jack-booted inspectors ready to seize control of the American breadbasket could impede action in the House, where lawmakers are up against a tight deadline and a full agenda before the end of this Congress.

"It's just inches to the goal line, and the clock and the possibility that the bill could get mired [in the House] is the main threat now," says Sandra Eskin, director of The Pew Charitable Trust's Food Safety Campaign in Washington.

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