The issue of food safety is taking center stage on Capitol Hill today, as the Senate prepares to vote on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) this evening. The bill (S.510), which has stirred up angst on both sides of the political spectrum, gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greater authority to test and recall food and beverage products that it suspects are contaminated. If passed, S.510 could profoundly affect numerous groups—including consumers—within the world of natural, organic and healthy products.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee without any dissenting votes on Nov.18, 2009, but then the bill took a back seat to health care reform and the midterm election. After a year of delays, the revised legislation is expected to finally pass the Senate thanks to efforts by both Democrats and Republicans to establish bipartisan support for the bill. 

As of last week, the revised Senate bill includes an amendment that protects small farmers, but a provision banning BPA from food containers didn’t make the cut, nor did a proposed amendment from Senator Patrick Leahy that would have created a new criminal offense for knowingly distributing tainted food products. Although S.510 is expected to pass the Senate, it continues to generate unrest—including among the Tea Party movement and the agribusiness industry. Supporters of FSMA include Grocery Manufacturers of America, the Food Marketing Institute, the Organic Trade Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and healthy food advocates Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (who jointly penned a New York Times editorial in support of the bill on Nov. 28).

As Senators on both sides spend today deciding whether to vote for or against the Food Safety Modernization Act, here are some answers to (or at least discussion of) the questions you might have about the bill and what it could mean for producers and consumers of natural, organic and healthy products.