EINNEWS, November 29—Today could mark one of the most important milestones in decades for the safety of the U.S. food supply.

If the U.S. Senate, which is scheduled to vote today on its version of the food safety bill, gives it majority support, the U.S. House, which already has passed the bill, has indicated it would accept the version with no changes, avoiding a second round of voting. The President has said he would sign the Senate version.

What seemed like a fairly easy path toward passage has been thrown into question by a last minute surge of opposition, particularly from right wing political groups.

Influential Fox News personality Glenn Beck last week implored his followers to try to kill the bill, calling it a “Death Star.” Since then, tea party opposition has been flooding into Capitol Hill.

Beck argues that the bill would raise food prices, be subject to new strangling regulations and that such a measure isn’t needed because of the safety of the food supply.

In his opposition, Beck echoed Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who has led floor opposition to the food safety bill. Coburn argues that few Americans die of food poisoning, contrary to statistics from the Center for Disease Control which pegs the number of deaths from food borne illnesses at over 5,000 per year.

Today’s schedule sets time for debate and calls for a final vote about 7 p.m. (EST).

Manufacturers and chain restaurants are supporting the bill, fearing that the recent rash of food recalls will lower consumer confidence in the food chain. Kellogg estimates that it lost $70 million in last year’s peanut butter salmonella outbreak.

Agribusiness giant Cargill also supports the bill. In August it had to recall some of its ground beef. Campbell Soup Company pulled 15 million pounds of Spaghetti-O’s with Meatballs off shelves in June.

The legislation would mandate Food and Drug Administration inspections of facilities with the highest risk of contaminating food once every three years. The measure would also give the government broad power to issue mandatory recalls rather than relying on private companies to act voluntarily.

The House of Representatives passed a more stringent bill in July 2009 that would impose registration fees on food processing plants and require more frequent inspections.
For more food safety news, visit Food Safety News Today (http://foodsafety.einnews.com), a food safety media monitoring service from EIN News.