THE BLOG
07/30/2009 06:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Step Closer to Safer Food

Today's House passage of H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, marks a victory that every American should applaud. After all, we all eat, and we want confidence that we're eating the safest food possible.

From spinach to peanut butter to cookie dough, the foods that we consume everyday make 76 million Americans sick every year. This piece of legislation will provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the authority and tools necessary to protect our food supply.

There are a number of key components to this legislation that will address the problems in current food safety laws that have become all too apparent with every new recall announcement. First, the FDA will have explicit authority to inspect high-risk food processing facilities every 6-12 months, low-risk facilities at a minimum of every 18 months to 3 years, and storage warehouses every 5 years. Astonishingly, the FDA currently inspects all facilities only ONCE every 10 years on average. Facilities will be required to meet strong performance standards. If our cars are required to meet performance standards to ensure they are safe enough to be on the road, food processing facilities must also meet standards to ensure they are qualified to handle our food.

Additionally, a food trace back system will allow the FDA to more quickly determine the source of contamination in case an outbreak does occur. Time is of the essence in the event of any incident of food contamination, and unnecessary delay in finding the source is unacceptable. Foreign foods will also be more closely inspected to ensure that they meet all of the food safety standards in the United States. These are just a few of the components of the bill which will protect you and your food.

Despite this achievement, we can not rest on our laurels and lose focus on another key facet of food safety, the use of antibiotics in animal feeds. As a microbiologist, this issue is one with which I am very familiar and very concerned. Cattle, pigs, and chickens are regularly fed antibiotics in order to prevent incidents of disease made more likely by the crowded, unsanitary conditions in which these animals live. The nontherapeutic use of antibiotics has been conclusively linked to a growing number of incidents of antimicrobial-resistant infections in humans, and ensuring the effectiveness of the antibiotics we use to treat a plethora of illnesses is essential to protecting public health. On July 13, the House Rules Committee held a hearing on this issue, and Joshua M. Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, Lance B. Price, a top scientist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, as well as other scientists and food experts confirmed the potentially devastating effects of antibiotics in animal feeds.

People on Capitol Hill wondered if I would incorporate components of my antibiotics legislation into the food safety bill. However, strengthening the authority of the FDA and ensuring that it has the funding necessary to protect the American people from contaminated food is too important to have risked delaying or hindering its passage. In March of this year I introduced the H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, and will continue my unwavering support of this legislation as it moves through the legislative process. On Wednesday, I appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight to help increase public awareness about this issue, and discuss my legislation.