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Food Safety Hearings Held by Congressional Committee

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On Tuesday, hearings were held by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations to weigh the role of regulatory bodies in protecting food safety. Families who have suffered from the recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses met with the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee to push for a strengthening of federal oversight of the nation’s food supply.

“I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do know what the wrong answer is: It is to continue doing what we’re doing, when it’s not working,” said Michael Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong described the disheartening situation faced by him and his wife, Elizabeth in regards to their daughters Ashley, 3, and Isabella, 5 who had both become seriously ill by E. coli after eating contaminated greens in September of 2006. The girls were two of over two hundred people identified as infected by the bacteria including 31 people who suffered kidney failure and three who died.

In March of 2007, 60 million cans of dog and cat food were recalled after the deaths of 16 pets that had eaten products contaminated with the chemical melamine. In the weeks following the initial recall several other companies have recalled pet foods tainted by melamine and now there is suspicion that the food contained tainted vegetable protein imported from China. In April thousands of reports of illness and deaths of dogs and cats are still being probed for any correlation with the contaminated food.

There was bipartisan consideration and sympathy towards the families who had presented the stories of the effects of food contamination on their lives and the need for oversight to avoid future preventable outbreaks. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas called on China to allow FDA inspectors to examine plants where the tainted ingredients were made, while the agency is still in the process of obtaining visas for its inspectors. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin plans to offer Senate amendment next week that may include language permitting the FDA to order mandatory recalls and fine companies that don’t promptly report spoiled or tainted food. House Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, chairperson of the Appropriations subcommittee, has threatened to cut off salaries for the FDA’s top managers in 2008 unless specific plans are laid out regarding inspections, recalls and standards.

“Our food safety system is collapsing, and the very agency in charge is asleep,” said DeLauro.

If you have questions about foodborne illness, call me, John Bisnar, at 800-259-6373.

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