Durbin: House Bill Would Undermine Most Comprehensive Reforms of Food Safety System in 70 Years

Ongoing E. coli outbreak a reminder of need for essential consumer protections

[GRANITE CITY, IL] – A recent outbreak of E. coli in the St. Louis region highlights the critical importance of the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply and demonstrates the danger of spending cuts approved by the House of Representatives, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today. The House funding cuts, which passed in June, would halt or delay key reforms that were part of the Durbin-authored FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), which won bipartisan approval in the House and Senate and was signed into law in January 2011.  Durbin has been an advocate of reforming the nation’s food supply for more than a decade.


“If these funding cuts are sustained, there will be terrible consequences for our nation’s food safety system and efforts to prevent millions of food-borne illnesses and thousands of deaths each year will be set back.  “The House bill takes us back to where we were before this landmark legislation was passed by cutting the funding FDA needs to meet the requirements of the new law. We need to improve our nation’s food safety system—not dismantle it. It is critical that we provide the FDA with the resources it needs to keep our food safe.”


Since the outbreak was first reported last week, there have been about two dozen confirmed cases of E. coli in the St. Louis region—including 2 confirmed cases in Illinois—in addition to 51 suspected cases. Health officials are still investigating the source of the contamination and have collected produce samples from a local grocery chain’s salad bar. At least six of the victims have been hospitalized. The outbreak of E. coli in the St. Louis region is not an isolated incident—there have recently been similar outbreaks in North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and New York.


“The outbreaks are the result of an outdated, under-funded and overwhelmed food safety system,” Durbin said. “The bipartisan legislation we passed earlier this year, if funded properly, will reform that system, improve the FDA’s ability to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks and ensure that the FDA responds quickly and effectively when outbreaks do occur. The fact that the House Republicans voted overwhelmingly this summer to cut the FDA’s budget and deny it the funds needed to implement the law should serve as a wakeup call to those of us who see the need to modernize our food safety system and do more to prevent food-borne illness.”


Durbin’s FSMA law focuses on four key areas to improve FDA’s authorities and resources: food-borne illness prevention; food-borne illness detection and response; food defense capabilities; and overall resources. The law increases the frequency of inspections at all food facilities, giving the FDA expanded access to records and testing results, and allowing the FDA to issue a mandatory recall of dangerous food products in the event a company fails to recall a product at the FDA’s request.


The cuts passed by the House would halt the implementation of the law and directly impact food-borne illness outbreaks like the E. coli outbreak in St. Louis by preventing the hiring of new food safety inspectors, or even forcing FDA to lay off current inspectors. Food safety inspectors are tasked with visiting food manufacturers to ensure that their facilities are clean and that they are handling food in compliance with the new food safety law.


The cuts would also prevent the FDA from enhancing its ability to rapidly trace contaminated food back to the source and stop such food from moving through the food distribution chain and infecting more people. In addition, these funding cuts would delay the development and implementation of new produce safety standards that would help prevent contamination of fresh fruit and produce. FDA would also be unable to review, approve, and monitor the implementation of the hazard prevention plans that are critical for identifying and removing contaminants at individual food facilities throughout the state and across the country.


The U.S. House of Representatives fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which was passed by the full House along a party-line vote in June, cuts $87 million from the FDA’s budget. The U.S. Senate’s fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which passed the full Senate last week with a bipartisan 69-30 vote, would increase the FDA’s funding by 5 percent and allow the implementation of the new law to move forward.


Each year, one out of every six Americans—48 million people—becomes sick due to preventable food-borne illnesses. Approximately 128,000 of those individuals are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Every hour of every day 14 people are rushed to the hospital because the food they ate made them sick, and at the end of the day 8 of those people will die.


Durbin has advocated reforming the nation’s food supply for more than a decade. He has authored bills to strengthen the food safety structures at FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture, proposed the creation of a single food safety agency and supported increased inspection and protection of foreign food imports.