|Congress Headed for an "F" in Food Safety
Consumers "Treading Water in a Shark Pond"
Despite many widely publicized food poisoning outbreaks and food recalls since January, the Republican-led Congress is headed for a failing grade in addressing food safety problems. With numerous bills languishing in committee and with only minimal funding of the Presidents request for $101 million in food safety improvements, Congress is leaving the American public without needed protection from food poisoning.
Over 9,000 people die and tens of millions of people become ill each year from contaminated food, according to government estimates. Since January, outbreaks have occurred in nearly twenty states, including an outbreak linked to contaminated potato salad that sickened over 4,000 people in Illinois; an outbreak linked to Gulf Coast oysters that infected over 300 in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and California; and an outbreak linked to Salmonella in breakfast cereal that sickened over 200 consumers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kansas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In addition, there have been numerous recalls of everything from breakfast cereal to ground beef since the beginning of the year.
"Congresss take-home message to the American public is: You are on your own when it comes to avoiding food poisoning," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Congress should remember that every voter eats, and every voter is entitled to the safest possible food."
Requests for new funding for the Presidents Food Safety Initiative in the agriculture appropriations bills have gone essentially unfunded. On June 24, the House approved $16.8 million of the $91 million request. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill provides just $2.6 million. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), together with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), is sponsoring an amendment to restore the full $101 million that President Clinton has requested. The amendment is expected to be debated by the Senate as early as next week.
"This Congress has not provided adequate funding for the Presidents Food Safety Initiative. There is no question this will hamper more food safety inspections and research," said Senator Tom Harkin. "This amendment would help restore this funding and put food safety on the front burner on Capitol Hill. The American people take food safety seriously -- so should Congress."
Legislation fares no better in the 105th Congress. Today, despite the fact that Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is holding her second hearing on the safety of imported foods, no action on legislation to improve the regulation of imports is expected before the end of the year. In fact, numerous bills to help prevent food poisoning are going nowhere in both houses of Congress.
These bills are all supported by the Recipe for Safe Food, a grassroots campaign of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
"Without more funding and greater authority for federal food safety watchdogs, consumers are left treading water in a shark pond," said Caroline Smith DeWaal. "The next food poisoning outbreak is assured; Congressional action is not."
Food Safety Report Card for the 105th Congress: F
[ CSPI News Releases ]