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Congress gagging on food safety proposals

First it was spinach.

Then it was pet food.

This week, lawmakers are in a tizzy over a California cattle ranch that potentially tortured and slaughtered sick cattle.

All those incidents add up to yet another push by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who want to overhaul America’s food safety system.

While figuring out the best way to fix our food safety system will be one challenge for Congress  —  there’s an ongoing debate over whether it will take more investments in our current system or a new system all together to prevent food contamination — the other challenge will be political.

In part, food safety advocates on Capitol Hill will have to rally consumer groups, the grocery industry, the farming industry and the companies that ship food across the country behind one plan.

At the same time, congressional leaders will have to figure out which of the endless food safety proposals floating around the House and Senate is the most viable fix — all without alienating the votes they’ll need to pass a bill.

Many proposals
At last count, there were at least six lawmakers touting their own food safety plans. For example, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey introduced a bill last year that would put more money and manpower into inspecting foreign foods, among other things.

Meanwhile, Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin and Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both long-time food safety crusaders, are still backing a plan to consolidate the food inspection responsibilities scattered throughout several agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, into a single food safety agency.

And Edward Kennedy, who chairs the Senate committee that would ultimately have jurisdiction over any food safety fixes, says he’s working on his own plan.

Nevertheless, don’t expect to see anything major happen this year. Durbin, for example, has often said that it will take a new administration to agree to a new food safety agency.

And knowing that any food safety overhaul will likely pass on additional costs to consumers, lawmakers are loath to make any changes while food prices stay high, a recession looms, and the campaign for the White House heats up.

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