Food Safety Fail

With all the talk of how we eat--from Michael Pollan's bestsellers to Michelle Obama's victory garden to the Food channel here at The Atlantic--it's worth noting that Congress missed an opportunity today to pass a law that would strengthen food safety, at least according to the bill's supporters. The Food Safety Enhancement Act went down to defeat this afternoon, mostly because of Republican voters but also an odd coalition of conservative and liberal Democrats.

The website Gastronomalies notes that the penalties for violations of existing food safety laws would have been upped considerably under the bill. The downside of the measure was that it did nothing to regulate some of the more gruesome practices of factory farms--stun baths, chickens so fattened and immobilized they have heart attacks, cows in their own feces, and all the other horror messes documented in the film Food Inc and books like Fast Food Nation.

A lot of the complaints about the bill were procedural, too. It was being pushed too fast, critics said. Not enough time for amendments, they added. The episode is another reminder, as if we needed one, that even when there's a national consensus on an issue like food safety it's a long journey before there's actually legislation that makes a difference.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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