THE BLOG

Put Healthcare on the Chopping Block and Take Up Food Safety

03/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If we can elect this guy to kill Health Care Reform:

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Perhaps the President should listen to me on Food Safety Reform and Health Care:

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President Obama once said:

"There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat are safe and do not cause us harm."

A few months ago I penned the below Op-ed (declined by the Washington post) - it seems a bit more on point after the recent election of a Cosmo centerfold.

According to federal health authorities, she is just one of the 76 million Americans sickened each year by tainted food, adding billions in costs to individuals, to food-producers and to our beleaguered medical system.

Yet food safety is rarely mentioned in the scream fest that has been national health care debate in and around Congress. In fact, our national squabble threatens to scuttle any hope for the much-needed food safety legislation that overwhelmingly passed in the House this summer. The Food Safety Enhancement Act would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority it needs to inspect food-processing plants and stop the distribution of food tainted with E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, or any of the other usual suspects. It would increase the agency's ability to use emerging technologies to trace contaminated foods and additives back to their source, while imposing new safety standards on both domestic and imported food products.

The potential benefits - to our children, our parents, our neighbors, and to the U.S. economy - are enormous. While the food industry insists that we have the world's safest food supply, the authoritative Centers for Disease Control suggest otherwise: 76 million sick people per year, 208,000 per day, 8,675 per hour. Most of those cases are relatively mild, but the CDC says 325,000 people will be hospitalized, and at least 5,000 of them will die of food poisoning.

Consider the costs to the health care system. The Department of Agriculture estimates the combined medical costs, productivity losses, and the costs of premature death at a minimum of $6.9 billion per year. But that estimate excludes costs such as lost business opportunities, public costs, pain and suffering, and much more. The Food and Drug Administration assigns a cost of $5 million per death, reaching a total cost of $17 billion per year. But using a more complex FDA formula that factors in the full societal cost, the savings reach an astronomical $357 billion.

There may be argument over the calculations, but these are not paper costs; they are real. In the 17 years I have been representing the victims of food-borne illness, we have collected more than $500 million in settlements and verdicts against food manufacturers. Most of that goes to cover the costs of medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering incurred by people whose only crime was to believe processors claims that their products were safe. So what if we passed meaningful food safety legislation? What if we saved billions of dollars in medical care and treatment by avoiding poisoning in the first place?

The House overwhelming passed, with bi-partisan support, HB 2794 last July. The Senate HELP Committee passed SB 510 last fall but was overwhelmed by the health care debate and the bill has languished. Both bills need some work - we need a stable funding source to increase resources to both the CDC for disease surveillance and the FDA for increased inspections, and both bills need to encourage and support regional, small farmers who grow safe food.

It's time to tone down the rhetoric on health care and do something positive: pass meaningful food safety legislation that will put lawyers like me out of business, while saving money and the lives, and well being, of innocent Americans.

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