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After languishing for more than a year, a food-safety bill that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support passed the Senate on Tuesday, raising prospects for tougher and more extensive federal inspections and other safeguards.
The bill, which President Obama supports, still needs to be reconciled with differing provisions in legislation passed by the House in July 2009.
But the Senate's approval, by a 73-25 margin, was cheered by food safety experts and advocacy groups as a sign that the long delay could be nearing an end and the nation's food-safety laws will receive their first major overhaul in decades.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act would require improved planning and record-keeping by food producers and would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to recall contaminated food under its own authority, instead of relying on industry cooperation.
"Today's vote will finally give the FDA the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe," Richard Durbin, D-Ill, the bill's primary sponsor, said in a statement.
Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, called it a "paradigm shift for the FDA."
"It moves the agency from reacting to outbreaks and recalls to preventing them," he said.
Impetus for the reforms came from a series of foodborne-illness outbreaks in recent years involving spinach, jalapeno peppers, cookie dough, peanuts and other food.
The Senate bill languished for months during lengthy debates on healthcare and financial regulation overhauls and disputes about changes to the legislation, which was supported by a broad but delicate coalition of food-safety, consumer-advocacy and food-industry groups.
A salmonella outbreak over the summer that sickened more than 1,800 and led to the largest egg recall in U.S. history refocused attention on defects in the food-safety system and highlighted the need for reform.
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