The Food Safety Modernization Act has been stalled in the Senate since it was passed unanimously by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and a companion bill – the Food Safety Enhancement Act – passed the House more than a year ago, last July. Last month, Senate leaders collaborated to release a bipartisan agreement on the bill, signaling that it is likely to be debated in the Senate this month.
Three consumer organizations – the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), and Consumer Federation of America – held a press conference together with foodborne illness survivors yesterday calling for the Senate to consider the bill as quickly as possible after it reconvenes on Monday.
They said their researchers had identified 85 recalls linked to at least 1,850 illnesses since the Food Safety Enhancement Act passed the House thirteen months ago.
Food safety director at CSPI Caroline Smith DeWaal said: “Consumers are sometimes sickened and everyone up and down the chain has to check for, remove, and destroy the contaminated products. Only Congress can fix the underlying problems by passing legislation that has been languishing in the Senate for over a year.”
If passed, the Food Safety Modernization Act would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to order product recalls, increase the frequency of plant inspections, and require all facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food to have risk-based preventive control plans in place to tackle to hazards and prevent adulteration.
Public health advocate for US PIRG Elizabeth Hitchcock said: “Unfortunately, the FDA is often in reactive mode, chasing down the source of an outbreak long after much of the food in question has been sold. We need this food safety reform legislation so that the FDA can focus on preventing contamination in the first place – before the food ends up in Americans’ cupboards and refrigerators.”
The bill was introduced in the wake of a spate of US foodborne illness outbreaks, and was sparked by the salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America last year when nine people died and more than 700 illnesses were associated with the outbreak strain.
One of the survivors of foodborne illness urging passage of the bill was 13-year-old Rylee Gustafson, of Henderson, Nevada. She was hospitalized for a month in 2006 after eating E. coli-tainted spinach.
“I hope that the Senate can finish work on the food safety bill, and that other kids won’t have to suffer from a foodborne illness like I did,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year, about 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die.