Memo from MFJ

Join the Fight for Safe Food

October 2009

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"No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch." Those words, from President Barack Obama, came soon after January's peanut butter outbreak, which sickened hundreds, killed nine, and caused the President to wonder about the food that his own daughters took to school.

Since then, Americans have faced outbreaks connected to beef, alfalfa sprouts, cookie dough, and even black pepper. As President Obama knows, preventing outbreaks would cut health-care costs by preventing some of the 325,000 hospitalizations that foodborne illnesses cause each year.

Two-year-old Kyle Allgood of Chubbuck, Idaho, died in 2006 after eating bagged spinach that was contaminated by E. coli 0157:H7.

And it's not just parents who need to worry. The elderly are among the most likely to experience food poisoning severe enough to require hospitalization. Foodborne illness can strike anyone, including healthy young adults.

Food processors are a critical link in preventing contaminated food from reaching consumers. That's why Congress needs to update the 70-year-old law that has failed to prevent these foodborne outbreaks.

In July, after more than 10 years of effort by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the nonprofit publisher of Nutrition Action), Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.), and others, the House of Representatives passed a strong food safety bill. If adopted, it would bring the Food and Drug Administration's food safety program into the 21st century.

The bill would require every food company to have a food safety plan and to keep records that the government could check during inspections, which would be done every 6 to 12 months for high-risk foods (like fish) and at least every three years for low-risk foods (like crackers). That would be a vast improvement, since the FDA now inspects most facilities roughly once every 10 years. (In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects slaughterhouses continuously through-out the day.)

But inspections aren't cheap. That's why CSPI has been working with a large coalition of groups ranging from the food and drug industries to other consumer groups.

Our goal is single-minded—to educate Congress about the need to boost funding for the FDA—and our results have been impressive. Last year, we secured a $140 million increase in the FDA's food budget. The FDA has started to hire more inspectors and to implement new programs, but new legislation is still sorely needed.

This fall, the Senate is poised to vote on landmark food safety legislation similar to what passed the House. We need your help to get it through.

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Write or Call your Senators at the U.S. Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) to support bill S.510, which would require frequent inspections and testing, authority to recall tainted foods, and a tracing system to get contaminated foods off the market faster. Or visit to send an automated e-mail to your senators.

The contents of NAH are not intended to provide medical advice, which should be obtained from a qualified health professional. The use of information from Nutrition Action Healthletter for commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission from CSPI.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is the nonprofit health-advocacy group that publishes Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI mounts educational programs and presses for changes in government and corporate policies.

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