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Milestone Measure to Advance Food Safety Passes Congress

202-667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Washington, D.C. – The nation’s food safety system is responsible for 3,000 deaths each year, and 48 million illnesses annually , according to newly released data from the federal Centers for Disease Control. Landmark federal legislation enacted today by Congress should significantly reduce that terrible human toll.

“It’s simply unacceptable that in the 21st century, with all our technology and know-how, 48 million Americans — that’s a one in six -- contract food-borne illnesses every year,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has campaigned for nearly 20 years to modernize the U.S. agriculture system and rid the food supply of pesticides and other industrial pollutants. “This bill can serve as the cornerstone of a truly modern food policy. But we have to look beyond acute episodes of food poisoning, serious as they are. Our research shows that Americans, even infants in the womb , are being bombarded with pesticides, industrial chemicals and other toxic substances that make their way into food.”

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) worked hard to include a provision in the food safety bill that would have restricted the use of the toxic plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups, but an 11th hour call from top industry lobbyists to key Republican senators killed her proposal.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which now goes to President Obama for his signature, would establish rigorous, modern food inspections aimed at preventing food adulterated by E. coli, salmonella and other contaminants from reaching supermarkets, restaurants and family dinner tables.

The measure gives more responsibility to farmers and producers to stop contamination and authorizes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to order recalls. Under current law, the agency can recommend but not force recalls of possibly tainted food from stores and restaurants.

“The last time any steps were taken to improve food safety in country the image of Grant Wood’s American Gothic was the reality on most farms,” added Cook. “Today’s agricultural landscape is dominated by huge corporate operations that are often the source of outbreaks. The FDA will be empowered with more inspectors and more authority to recall suspect food immediately, and will hold food producers responsible for assuring their facilities are clean.”

The big chemical agriculture interests, led by United Produce and Western Growers threatened to kill the bill in the House over a provision that would exempt some small family farms from certain regulations.

Cook added: “EWG will be a watchdog on this law to make sure it protects people from food-borne illness without placing an unacceptable regulatory burden on the small farms and companies that are driving the exciting, emergent local food movement.”

The champions in Congress who deserve much of the credit for modernizing a food safety system are Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WI) and Representatives John Dingell (D-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Numerous public interest groups worked tirelessly to ensure safer food for all Americans including U.S. PIRG and the Make Our Food Safe Coalition including Consumers Union, Pew Charitable Trusts and Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

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