After months of negotiation behind the scenes and speeches in front of C-SPAN cameras inside the Beltway, and years of growing concern among consumers that the food on our dinner tables might make us sick, the U.S. Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) by a 73 to 25 vote this morning.
That's great news for the vast numbers of American consumers who want to trust that the food they bring home from the grocery store and serve to their families won't make them sick. Once it's enacted, this historic legislation will protect consumers from preventable food-borne illness.
This victory for consumers comes not a moment too soon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and more than 5000 people die each year in the United States from eating contaminated food.
In the United States, in the 21st Century, those numbers are both unbelievable and unacceptable.
Just during the Congressional recess this fall:
- Thirty three people in five states were sickened, with fifteen sent to the hospital, from eating cheese contaminated with E. coli.
- Cal-Maine Foods, the nation's biggest egg seller and distributor announced an eight state recall of 300,000 eggs because of possible salmonella contamination.
- An outbreak of illness caused by Listeria in bagged celery reportedly killed four Texans and sickened at least ten more in recent months.
FDA's food safety authority fails to meet the food safety challenges of the 21st century. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will protect consumers by doing a number of things that most of us probably thought were already happening. For example:
- Food manufacturers will be required to have food-safety plans that will prevent contaminated food from reaching consumers.
- FDA will set responsible standards for produce safety, so parents can have confidence that fresh fruits and vegetables are nutritious and safe to serve to their children.
- Food facilities will be required to be inspected more frequently to make sure they are following the rules.
- Standards for imported food will be set to end the practice by foreign producers of dumping unsafe food on the American market.
A New York Times report on passage of the Senate bill contained a disturbing note:
Despite unusual bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a strong push from the Obama administration, the bill could still die because there might not be enough time for the usual haggling between the Senate and House of Representatives, which passed its own version last year. Top House Democrats said that they would consider simply passing the Senate version to speed approval.
The House of Representatives passed its food safety bill more than a year ago. Since then, there have been more than 100 voluntary recalls of FDA regulated foods because of pathogens like salmonella and E coli.
Further delay will mean that more people get sick from preventable food borne illness. Congress should work quickly to finalize the food safety bill and deliver it to the President's desk.