The Senate’s new, multi-billion dollar food bill

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

On Tuesday, the lame-duck session of the Senate passed a sweeping overhaul of the American food safety system with bipartisan support. The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration far more jurisdiction over farms and the way that food is grown, Benjamin England, founder of FDAImports.com, told PRI’s The Takeaway. The new inspections outlined in the bill are also going to be very expensive. You can read the bill here (pdf).

Last week, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that agricultural industry groups were lining up against the bill. They wrote:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that these industry groups never much liked the new rules in the first place. They just didn’t dare come out against them publicly, not when 80 percent of Americans support strengthening the FDA’s authority to regulate food.

Exerting that authority is going to be expensive, according to England, who worked at the FDA for 17 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $600 to $700 million. England says: “They don’t realize how much is involved in the provisions that they mandated FDA to perform certain inspections.” He estimates that the new inspections will cost billions of dollars each year.

That extra price tag may well be worth it, according to Pollan and Schlosser. They write that “a recent study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion.”

The House of Representatives already passed a version of the bill last year, and now the two bodies will try to reconcile the differences between the two bills. The House could also try to pass the Senate bill, to make the process move faster.

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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