07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Vital Step Toward Safer Food

Andrew Kimbrell makes a strong argument that the U.S. food safety system is not protecting us and our families against foodborne illness. He cites well-known government statistics that each year millions of Americans get sick after eating food contaminated with pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Campylobacter. Hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and 5,000 lose their lives as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He demands that Congress address the problem of unsafe food.

Members of the Make Our Food Safe* coalition share Kimbrell's outrage about the rate of foodborne illness. Our members have worked for years to improve this nation's food-safety system. Unlike Kimbrell, however, we know that the time has come to do something about it, and we know that the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) is essential to reaching our shared goal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of 80 percent of America's food supply. S. 510 requires the FDA, for the first time in its history, to prevent foods contaminated with disease-causing organisms from getting to restaurants, stores and our dinner tables instead of waiting until people get sick and die and then come in to clean up afterwards. It overhauls FDA's entire approach to foodborne illness from reaction to prevention. The Food Safety Modernization Act also requires the FDA to inspect food processors every year instead of once a decade and gives the FDA power to prevent other countries from shipping contaminated food into the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own bill last summer. The Senate needs to act now so the FDA can begin using these new authorities to reduce foodborne illness and death.

Andrew Kimbrell's post raises issues that go beyond reducing foodborne illness -- better nutrition, safer meat and poultry, a single food safety agency. Again, members of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition share and have worked, sometimes alongside Kimbrell, for those same goals. Furthermore, the coalition has worked with senators to ensure that S. 510 was revised to avoid placing an undue burden on small farms.

Some voices speak louder than others about passing new food safety legislation. The most potent voices urging Congress to pass S. 510 belong to the victims of foodborne illness. Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) were founded by victims of foodborne illness and represent thousands of Americans who have suffered economic loss, illness, and death because our government hasn't prevented contaminated food from getting to our plates. They and others supporting S. 510 know that no one bill will address all of the issues Kimbrell raised or create a perfect food safety system. That must be an ongoing crusade.

The victims also know that new law requiring the FDA to reduce and prevent foodborne illness will save more families from losing a child or a parent, and that that goal is worth all of our efforts to make it happen now. I hope Andrew Kimbrell will join us in supporting this vital step toward safer food.

* The Make Our Food Safe coalition includes the American Public Health Association, Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, National Consumers League, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP),Trust for America's Health and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.