The Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) passed the Senate Nov. 30 with a bipartisan vote, fueling optimism among the bill’s supporters that the United States’ food system will be made significantly safer in the near future. But before anyone gets too deep into their celebrating (or bemoaning) of the passage of the S.510 in the Senate, it is important to realize that the bill has not been made law yet—and the road to President Obama’s desk is actually marred by what could be a significant pothole. 

The White House has indicated that Obama plans to approve the bill; but before he can do that, it must get through the House of Representatives before the end of the year. If it doesn’t, the whole process will need to begin again next year with the new Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate.

Initially, House Democrats said they would pass the Senate version of the food safety bill rather than try to reconcile it with the House’s companion legislation, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, which passed in July 2009. This would have ensured the bill would make it to Obama before the end of 2010.

Senate error threatens House roadblock

Now, however, the House may block S.510 because it contains tax-generating provisions. All tax-authority resides in the House, meaning the Senate bill violates the Constitution. If the House fails to pass S.510, many fear there is simply not enough time in the current lame-duck Congressional session for the two chambers to work out a new final version of food safety legislation.

“It is too soon to tell how this plays out, but it could mean the bill dies in this Congress and they start again next year,” said John Gay, executive director and chief executive officer of the Natural Products Association (NPA).

NPA was one of the industry trade associations that worked over the last year to help shape S.510 into a piece of legislation that would be good for natural products retailers, suppliers and manufacturers. “Enactment [of S.510] will complete a long legislative journey spanning several Congresses, and is a significant win for the NPA and the industry,” Gay said. “Provisions negatively impacting natural products retailers and suppliers were modified or kept out of the bill, and measures supported by the industry were included.” NPA and other industry trade groups opposed the House’s Food Safety Enhancement Act, which included harsher penalties for manufacturers that violate the law.

At this point, the NPA is unable to influence S.510’s passage through the House. “As far as we can tell, there’s not much more to be done as far as lobbying is concerned,” Gay told

Said Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance: “This is not a done deal yet; and even if enacted into law, [S.510] may lack the funding necessary to effect the positive change envisioned.”