Senate leaders indicated Aug. 12 they have reached substantial agreement on forward movement with food safety legislation.


While some issues will have to be debated on the floor, one Capitol Hill staffer said Senate leaders were generally happy with how the manager’s amendment had come together.


No details have been released about when the legislation will be debated, though it seems likely the legislation will be on the Senate agenda when it reconvenes in September.


An Aug. 12 e-mail alert to journalists covering the issue indicated negotiations have been ongoing among six Senate leaders: Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee chairman Tom Harkin, I-Iowa, ranking member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., authors of The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and lead cosponsors Chris Dodd, D-Ct, and Richard Burr, R-N.C.,


“With this announcement today, we aim to not just patch and mend our fragmented food safety system, we hope to reinforce the infrastructure, close the gaps and create a systematic, risk-based and balanced approach to food safety in the U.S.,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement, promising quick consideration of the bill by the full Senate.


“The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will place more emphasis on prevention of foodborne illness and will provide new tools to respond to food safety problems,” the lawmakers said.


Two major issues that remain unresolved include the amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to exempt smaller operations from some requirements under the legislation and the push by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to restrict the use of the chemical Bisphenol A.


On those issues negotiators continue to discuss the issue with Sens. Feinstein and Tester to find agreement as the legislation heads to the Senate floor, the Capitol Hill source said.


Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute, Washington, D.C., said industry advocates were invited to a Capitol Hill briefing about the legislation that was scheduled for late the afternoon of Aug. 12. A spokesman for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., could not immediately be reached for comment.


The produce industry has been anxious for the Senate to act on food safety reform legislation, said Tom O’Brien, the Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.


“This is a positive sign that consideration by the full Senate is imminent,” he said.


Congressional action on food safety reform legislation has been slow in coming, despite generally bipartisan support.


In July 2009, the House passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 by a comfortable margin, and the Senate legislation was unanimously passed out of Senate Health Committee in November.