Durbin Statement on the Urgent Need for Food Safety Reform

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) delivered the following statement today at a hearing on state of the nation’s food safety systems. Durbin is the author of the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510), a bill that will give the Food and Drug Administration new authorities, tools and resources to comprehensively reform the way we ensure the safety of our food supply.


Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin HELP Committee Hearing on FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) October 22, 2009


Remarks As Prepared for Delivery


Thank you, Chairman Harkin and Senator Enzi.


I also want to thank Senator Gregg and Burr, who worked closely with my staff and staff to the late Senator Kennedy to develop a strong, bipartisan bill.


I think what you will hear from today’s witnesses is that there is growing consensus among consumer advocates, public health officials and the food industry that we need to update our food safety laws.


Every year, 76 million Americans suffer from a preventable food-borne illness.


325,000 are hospitalized. And 5,000 die.


That means that every 5 minutes -- 3 people are rushed to the hospital because the food they ate made them sick. And at the end of each day -- 13 will die.


Mary Ann’s Story


This is Mary Ann Westerman of Mendota, IL. Mary Ann is 80 years old. She’s pictured here with her grandson.

On Labor Day weekend, Mary Ann made a salad before driving to Chicago to meet her family.


She took some spinach out of the refrigerator – a food she knew was healthy and assumed was safe.

Hours after eating the spinach, Mary Ann Westerman was sprawled across her bathroom floor – vomiting violently and experiencing uncontrollable diarrhea. Then her kidneys failed.

Mary Ann never made it to Chicago to see her family. Instead, she went to the hospital for 6 weeks, was diagnosed with E. Coli, and received medical treatment through a hole in her neck.

Thankfully, Mary Ann is still alive, but the quality of her life will never be the same.

Americans ought to be able to trust the spinach that is in their refrigerator.

This country has a good system, and most of our food is safe. But there are far too many lives -- like Mary Ann’s – that have been compromised by food-borne illness.

Reform is Good for Business

The Food and Drug Administration is working within the constraints of outdated laws, inadequate staff, and not enough funding. FDA has been set up to react to outbreaks of contamination.

The bill this Committee is considering today would empower FDA to prevent outbreaks. Until we can prevent widespread contamination, businesses will take the hit every time consumers lose confidence.

Peanut Butter

Take peanut butter for example. Americans love peanut butter. But the salmonella outbreak at Peanut Corporation of America last year, led to one of the largest product recalls in history.

Look at this list of the more than 3,900 peanut-related products that were recalled. Not surprisingly, Americans stopped buying food with peanuts in it. Because of the irresponsible conduct of one corporation, the entire peanut industry suffered. By some estimates, industry lost almost $1 billion.


Last summer we thought tomatoes were responsible for a salmonella outbreak. So retailers took tomatoes off shelves. Wholesalers destroyed tomato supplies. Tomato farmers couldn’t sell.

We would have applauded this rapid response … if tomatoes were actually the source of the contamination. It turns out they were not.

It took almost 6 weeks before the real source of the salmonella contamination – Jalapeño peppers from Mexico – was discovered.

Because of this mistake, tomato growers across the country lost almost $150 million.

Meanwhile, until the source of the problem was identified – thousands of people were sickened.


The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will give FDA the resources and authority to quickly trace food borne illnesses back to their source. We can prevent millions of cases like Mary Ann’s each year. We can save industries – like spinach, peanuts and tomatoes – millions of dollars each year.

I commend this Committee for considering this bill to modernize our food safety system and urge your support for S. 510.