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Egg crisis may help food safety bill in Senate

By Ted Barrett, CNN Congressional Producer
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Is our food safe to eat?
  • Bill would give new powers and resources to the Food and Drug Administration
  • It would improve the FDA's ability to remove suspect foods from stores quickly
  • Bipartisan bill also would allow FDA to halt work at a facility if problems are suspected
  • Version of bill passed House last year, stalled in Senate

Washington (CNN) -- Supporters of a long stalled bill to bolster the safety of the nation's food supply are hoping the widening egg salmonella crisis will give them momentum to pass their bill in the Senate as early as next month.

The bipartisan bill would give new powers and resources to the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on risky food suppliers in the United States and abroad. For instance, in the current situation, the FDA could quickly order direct recalls of suspected eggs instead of relying on voluntary recalls by the manufacturers

"It is really important that as a nation we continue to invest in food safety and strengthen our food safety programs," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in an interview with CNN on Monday in support of the legislation.

The measure is likely to gain broad support from Democrats and Republicans after a group of bipartisan senators reached an agreement on a final compromise earlier this month, several Senate aides from both sides of the aisle said Monday.

Video: Bad eggs the beginning?
Video: What is salmonella?
Video: Still eating eggs

Democratic leaders are trying to schedule a vote in the next several weeks, sometime before the midterm elections, Democratic aides said.

The House passed a similar bill a year ago but action stalled in the Senate, where health care reform and a financial regulations bill dominated the floor calendar.

The bill stalled further when some Democratic senators pushed to attach a controversial ban of the chemical known as BPA from food containers. In the end, negotiators dropped the provision from the bill, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, is expected to offer it as an amendment on the floor.

The bill aims to increase the number of inspections at U.S. and foreign facilities and improve the FDA's surveillance of food borne illnesses. It would improve the agency's ability to track suspected foods and remove them from stores more quickly.

In addition to allowing the FDA to recall tainted foods, it grants the agency the ability to shut down a plant if there is "reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death," according to a Senate summary of the bill.

If the Senate passes the bill, it will have to be melded with the somewhat different House bill.