Progress on Fighting Foodborne Illness Stalled Last Year

Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their annual report on the incidence of foodborne illness in the U.S.  The bad news is progress on reducing foodborne illness in the country has stalled.  Infections from E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Vibrio are increasing.  Little progress has been made on reducing Campylobacter infections.  And for the second year in a row, we have failed to meet our Healthy People objective of reducing food poisoning from Listeria.

This data reflects a serious lack of commitment at the highest levels of government to reduce foodborne illness, which claims 5,000 lives every year and causes 325,000 hospitalizations.  The FDA, which is responsible for the safety of approximately 80% of the food supply, has had its budget cut significantly for the past several years.  The USDA, meanwhile, is pursuing a program to reduce inspection in one-third of the nation’s meat and poultry plants and acknowledges that some 200 plants have not had daily inspection as required by law.   Major nationwide outbreaks over the past months linked to spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter and even pet food, further highlight the problem.

The U.S. food safety system needs an overhaul.  We need to modernize our food safety laws and create a single agency empowered to ensure the safety of our food supply, as proposed by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Richard Durbin in their Safe Food Act.  In addition, Congress should provide increased funding to FDA and make certain that the other food safety agencies are fully funded.  As CDC’s data demonstrates, we must act now before the progress we have made in years past is completely erased.

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