WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate this morning voted 73 to 25 to approve the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, which, if enacted, would give the nation’s food safety system its first major overhaul in 70 years. The measure long enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Its passage was delayed until the lame duck session primarily because of objections raised by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, which required the bill to run a gauntlet of procedural votes before advancing to the final tally.

The House of Representatives passed its version of food safety reform legislation, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, on July 30, 2009. The House leadership now must decide whether to pass the Senate version of the bill, which House Democratic leaders indicated they may consider in view of pressing business and time constraints, or request a conference with the Senate to resolve differences and produce a joint bill that may be passed and sent to the president.

Both Senate and House bills would require food facilities, foreign and domestic, to develop and implement plans for preventive controls to minimize the risk of food contamination, greatly increase the frequency of Food and Drug Administration inspections of food facilities, and provide the FDA with mandatory recall authority. But there were differences including the House bill’s levying of an annual facility registration fee to help defray the costs of increased inspections while the Senate bill contained no such provision.