Understandably, many U.S. senators are preoccupied with elections this fall.

Unfortunately for the produce industry and consumers, hopes for passage of comprehensive food safety legislation that enjoys support from business and consumer watchdog groups may become a casualty of politics on Capitol Hill.

Hampering the voting on the bill are amendments that would curtail the use of BPA in food containers and would carve out exemptions for small producers.

In response to those sticking points, coupled with Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn’s threats in mid-September to block the bill on budgetary grounds, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would not bring the bill to the floor before the Senate breaks in October to campaign.

The House of Representatives passed its version of food safety reform in July 2009, and Senate inaction threatens consumer confidence in fresh fruit and vegetable safety and produce businesses’ financial well-being in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak.

Business interests, including the United Fresh Produce Association, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, find themselves in agreement with the Center for Science in the Public Interest on regulatory legislation. This broad support underscores recognition from all stakeholders of the legislation’s importance.

Failing consideration before October — when the Senate will recess — food safety legislation could pass during a lame duck session after the November elections.

For the Senate to squander this opportunity would be to disregard the public interest and potentially the economic health of the industry.

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