Cutting food safety is playing with fire (Rep. Rosa DeLauro)

Recently, the CDC released an updated estimate on food-borne illness figures, and it remains a major public health threat. With nearly 50 million illnesses, 100,00 hospitalizations, and over 3,000 deaths each year, much work remains to be done in identifying and combating the pathogens that cause food-borne illness.

As such, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that was signed into law this week incorporates key provisions from legislation I introduced two years ago, including increased inspections of high-risk facilities, access to company records during recalls, improved traceability, and most critically, mandatory recall authority.

All of these tools will help improve FDA’s ability to respond to food-borne illness outbreaks and to hold industrial food production facilities to higher standards. For too long, the cornerstone of our food safety system – the FDA – has had only ancient tools and an outdated mandate at its disposal. This bill will go a long way towards stemming the potential of a full-blown, food-borne epidemic in the future.

But without appropriate funding levels, this bill will not be as effective in protecting our food supply and saving lives. Quite simply, this is playing with fire. We need to improve our food safety system, not eviscerate it for the sake of arbitrary budget-cutting.

There is a still much work to be done on food safety, and a bipartisan way forward. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), for one, has joined me in calling for the further consolidation of our fifteen separate food safety departments into one single, comprehensive agency. But cutting FDA funding to the bone, and thereby severely impeding its ability to protect America from food-borne illness, is just not the right way to go. I find it highly irresponsible of the new majority party that they would put American families at risk just to make an ideological point.

In the coming Congress, I will work hard to see that the FDA continues to receive the funding it needs to protect America from contaminated food. If we do not invest wisely in our food safety, come the next holidays, the FDA may no longer have the resources to sound the alarm when it needs sounding. And that is something nobody in Congress wants to see happen on their watch.