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Obama signs food-safety measure; GOP may challenge overhaul of system

Foreshadowing the coming power struggles between the White House and a more Republican Congress, President Obama on Tuesday signed a $1.4 billion overhaul of the nation's food safety system as some lawmakers complained that it's too expensive and threatened its funding.

The first major overhaul of the food safety system since the 1930s, the law emphasizes prevention to help stop deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness before they occur, instead of reacting after consumers become ill.

It calls for increasing government inspections at food processing facilities and, for the first time, gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to order the recall of unsafe foods.

Obama made improving food safety a priority shortly after taking office in 2009. There have been several deadly outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisoning in peanuts, eggs and produce in the past few years.

But some Republicans lawmakers, sensitive to the public's concerns about high levels of government spending and debt, say the $1.4 billion, five-year price tag is too much and needs more scrutiny.

"I think we'll look very carefully at the funding before we support $1.4 billion," Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., told the Associated Press in an interview. Kingston hopes to become chairman of the agriculture subcommittee of the House panel that helps set government spending.

Republicans who want to withhold funding would appear to have little chance of succeeding. The bill passed Congress with broad bipartisan support last year on a 73-25 vote in the Senate and by 215-144 in the House.

Major food companies backed the bill, recognizing that safe food is good for business. Recent outbreaks in spinach and other foods hurt those industries financially as consumers reacted to recalls or stopped buying those products.

Obama quietly signed the bill at the White House after returning earlier Tuesday from a family vacation in Hawaii, a day before a more Republican and less White House-friendly Congress returns to session. In the new Congress, Republicans will control the House and operate with a larger minority in the Senate.

Kingston said recent data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the food supply is "99.999 percent safe" and that the FDA is doing a "very decent job on food safety already."

The new law would:

Increase inspections of U.S. and foreign food facilities; the riskiest U.S. facilities would be inspected every three years. The FDA rarely inspected most facilities and farms, visiting some about once a decade and others not at all.

TAllow the FDA to order the recall of tainted food. Previously, the agency could only negotiate with businesses for voluntary recalls.

Impose new safety regulations on producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables.

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