Although the Senate is normally an institution with its head in the 18th century - and that may be unfair, I know, to the 18th century - it actually acknowledged modernity on Tuesday, if only for a moment. By passing a bill that substantially strengthens food safety regulations, it recognized that the food we eat is produced both industrially and globally. Whether its newfound grasp on reality extends to other key pending legislation, the Dream Act and repealing "don't ask, don't tell," we'll know soon enough.
On Tuesday, though, the world's greatest deliberative body actually concerned itself with facts - such as, almost 20 percent of food consumed in the United States, including three-fourths of our fish, is imported from other countries. But the Food and Drug Administration has lacked authority and staff to inspect more than one pound in 1 million of food imports. The just-passed bill will give the FDA authority to set standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown abroad and to increase its inspection of food processing plants in other countries. It also mandates increased inspections of domestic food processors and allows the FDA to recall unsafe food directly from stores.