MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Safety of the nation's food supply has become a point of contention as Congress considers a new farm bill, with a massive beef recall highlighting doubts about the government's attempt to change the rules governing federal meat inspections. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she will block the Senate bill if it includes a House-passed provision that would allow some smaller meat processing plants to opt out of federal meat inspections in favor of state inspections. The bill hasn't even emerged from committee yet. "In recent months, the safety of our domestic food supply has been called into question," Boxer said at a news conference Tuesday with food safety advocates. "Congress should be focused on more stringent food safety standards, not rolling back the federal government's crucial role in protecting our people." Millions of pounds of ground beef from a New Jersey plant were recalled over the weekend, after several people became sick from E. coli food poisoning, and bags of leafy greens were recalled in several states last month. Last year, an E. coli outbreak traced to bagged baby Spinach was blamed for the deaths of three people and for sickening hundreds more across the country. Disagreements over food safety could be yet another obstacle to legislation that is already tangled in arguments over tight budgets and the scope of government payouts to wealthy farmers. The House passed its version of the multibillion legislation in July, and the Senate Agriculture Committee hopes to consider its version of the bill this week. Under current law, only federally inspected plants can ship meat across state lines. Boxer said the House bill would lead to inconsistent inspections and could put the country's health at risk. "Allowing uneven and lax state standards to replace a uniform federal standard is not appropriate," she said. "It is irresponsible."