A pivotal vote tonight will be the clearest signal yet whether or not food safety reform legislation will pass the Senate this year.

If the cloture vote is successful, Sen. Harry Reid said that a final vote on S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, could come late this evening or on Nov. 30.

Critical vote nears on food safety bill

Related content

Senate passes Food Safety Modernization Act.

Invoking cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill and avoid a filibuster. Cloture requires 60 votes, or three-fifths of the Senate.

The bill includes an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that exempts smaller operations from some requirements, drawing opposition from produce industry groups.

Allowing exemptions for small food operations has created an element of uncertainty about the fate of the bill, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm.

“It’s anybody’s guess, especially in this kind of strange political post-election lame duck partisan climate that we are in,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Washington, D.C.

Twenty fresh produce organizations came out in opposition to S. 510 in response to the revised Tester amendment, saying blanket exemptions would fail to protect consumers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a Nov. 29 letter, defends the Tester amendment.

“Within agriculture, the amendment has been attacked by industry trade associations as too permissive and the bill by some food freedom advocates as too highly regulated,” according to the letter. “We believe the bill’s managers have achieved a responsible balance between these extremes.”

Hoefner said the amendment would be more effective than what he called the “one-size-fits-all approach large-scale processors would prefer to foist on family farmers and local food entrepreneurs.”