Food safety bill awaits president's signature

The tortuous journey of a bill overhauling the nation’s food safety oversight is one step closer to conclusion, after the House voted on Tuesday afternoon — for the third time — to approve the measure.

The bill passed mostly along party lines, 215-144, marking another win for Democrats in the lame-duck session, even though the bill was dead in the water last weekend despite passing both chambers earlier this year.

A more liberal version of the bill passed the House in July 2009, but the Senate did not approve its own version until the start of the lame-duck session in November. However, a technical error voided the bill, and the legislation had to start over again in the House.

Fearing that Senate Republicans would filibuster any bill not related to tax cuts and government spending, House leaders tucked the Senate food safety bill into a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded. The CR narrowly passed the House, but the Senate scrapped it after it became clear Republicans wouldn’t support it.

Without an obvious vehicle for passing food safety, the bill’s chances in the lame-duck session seemed slim. However, in a surprise move, the Senate approved the food safety bill by voice vote Sunday night, and the House gave its final approval Tuesday afternoon.

President Obama presumably will sign the bill, which will give the Food and Drug Administration power to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers' records.

The bill's passage comes one week after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said one in six Americans gets sick from foodborne illness each year, and 3,000 people die each year as a result.