EINNEWS, November 29—The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote today on a food safety bill that supporters say is long overdue to provide protection to the nation’s food supply, and which critics claims is such an overreach of government power it would permit the National Guard to be called to quarantine entire communities.

The biggest players in the food industry, including the agrochemical companies, supermarket chains and public health and consumer protection communities all have lined up behind the bill, a version of which already has passed the U.S. House.

The measure would give the FDA the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens and to recall contaminated food. The agency would be give resources and authority to prevent food safety problems, rather than respond only after people have become ill. The bill would also require more frequent inspections of large-scale, high-risk food-production plants.

For the first time, imported foods would be subject to the same standards as those made in the United States.

Small farmers and right wing political activists are waging a last ditch fight against it. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, the bill’s most influential opponent, claims that 10 or 20 Americans a year die from a food-borne illness, that the government doesn’t need mandatory recall power because “not once in our history have we had to force anyone to do a recall,” and that the annual cost of the new food safety requirements — about $300 million — is prohibitively expensive. The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 5,000 people a year die from food-borne illness.

Small growers fear that with the new powers, the FDA would declare that many organic farming methods are “unsafe” and would outlaw them. Others have charged that the U.S. government could declare that the only “safe” seed for a particular crop is genetically modified seed and would require all farmers to use it.

For more food news, visit Food Industry Today (http://food.einnews.com), a food media monitoring service from EIN News.