Congress: Food safety system must be fixed

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We fight for a food system that is safe, sustainable and transparent.


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2009

FOODBORNE ILLNESS VICTIMS MARK PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FIRST 100 DAYS BY CALLING FOR PERMANENT FIX TO FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM
Victims & Their Families Convene in Washington D.C. to Share Personal Stories & Ask Congress to Pass Legislation that Will Protect the Public

WASHINGTON, D.C – April 29, 2009 – More than 20 victims of foodborne illness, including surviving family members of those killed by contaminated food, gathered today at the U.S. Capitol to share their stories, meet with legislators and voice support for legislation to reform our nation’s food safety system. Representing the 76 million Americans who are needlessly sickened each year from contaminated food—and the thousands who die each year from foodborne illness—these victims and their families urged Congress and the Obama administration—who made a commitment to improve food safety in the U.S. within his first 100 days in office—to pass food safety
legislation that will improve consumer protection.
“The stories of these victims illustrate why Congress must act now to fix our ailing food safety system,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “We simply cannot afford to wait. Seeing a strong food safety bill enacted will be one of my highest priorities this Congress.”
“These victims, their families and their stories must serve as the final wake-up call. We must act now to make it happen, transform the FDA, and begin a new movement that puts public health first. At last, we can bring our current food safety system out of the past,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations. “That is why I have introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act to separate food safety regulation from drug and device approvals and to restore the balance that has long been missing at Health and Human Service.”
More than 5,000 Americans die annually from foodborne illness—from outbreaks linked to spinach, lettuce, and peanuts. Unfortunately, our food safety system is woefully inadequate, and in key respects is still based on laws Congress enacted in 1906 that are outdated and fail to protect our food supply. Consider the following: in 2007 there were approximately 1.5 million fires in the United States, causing about 18,000 injuries and 3,400 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, in that same year, there one in four Americans were victims of foodborne illness, causing 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Today, no one would tolerate fighting fires with buckets and horse-drawn wagons—this would be unacceptable. Similarly, we cannot combat 21st century problems in our food supply with a statute written more than 100 years ago.
“We know the system can be improved,” said Robyn Allgood of Chubbuck, ID, whose 2-year-old son Kyle died in 2006 after drinking a smoothie containing spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. “What’s scary is that a foodborne pathogen can’t be seen, and once someone is sick there is no way to reverse it. Stopping it before it gets to our grocery stores and homes would save so much money and heartache.”
Without immediate reform, the outbreaks of contaminated food, like we have seen over the past several years, are likely to continue. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control on April 9, 2009 shows that over the past three years, there has been no reduction in the reported incident rate of many foodborne illnesses. In fact,
Salmonella infections may be rising.
Major consumer and food safety groups have launched the Make Our Food Safe Campaign (www.makeourfoodsafe.org), including the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority, and Trust for America’s Health—full page advertisements
promoting the campaign appear in today’s Hill, Roll Call and Politico publications. These groups have released a list of key provisions that should be included in legislation to reform the nation’s food regulatory system:
A risk-based inspection process to ensure that all food facilities are inspected at least annually, but more frequently if the facility produces a high-risk product;
Requirements that food companies test and sample for harmful contaminants, along with a requirement that they must report any test result showing contamination to the government;
Mandatory food processor plans that will identify where contamination may occur, and include steps or interventions to prevent contamination;
Science-based standards for foods, including fresh produce; Steps to ensure that imported food products meet the same safety standards as those applied to food produced in the U.S.;
Enhanced enforcement tools, like mandatory recall authority and the power to promptly levy meaningful penalties against violators;
Structural changes in HHS that would make food safety-related functions in that Department more effective by creating two separate Administrations—one for food and one for drugs and devices.
Several bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress that would give the FDA the tools and authority it needs to keep our food safe, including clear regulatory oversight and accountability, safety standards for imported foods, and mandatory recall authority.
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CONTACT:
Naomi Starkman, Consumers Union. 917-539-3924