Durbin: There Is No Excuse For FDA's Food Safety Failures To Persist

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin highlights his Food Safety Administration Act

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) highlighted his Food Safety Administration Act of 2022, legislation he introduced with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) that would establish the Food Safety Administration, a single food safety agency responsible for ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply.  This new agency would take over food safety responsibilities currently housed at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During his speech, Durbin remembered 79-year-old Mary Billman from Pesotum, Illinois, who died from contaminated ice cream.

Durbin said, “And another person who lived in my home state of Illinois lost her life [to food contamination].  Her name was Mary Billman.  In January, she traveled to Florida to visit her daughter.  One day, she decided to grab some ice cream.  Harmless, right?  As it turns out, no, that ice cream was contaminated.  That’s right.  Ice cream is the likely source of this outbreak.  This outbreak is one example of a long list of outbreaks in America, which are becoming way too commonplace.”

The FDA regulates approximately 80 percent of our food supply, and consumers and industry depend on the FDA food program to perform its regulatory role effectively—and yet, despite increased authorities and funding, the agency has failed to make significant inroads in reducing rates of foodborne illness and death in the U.S.  About one in six Americans—or 48 million people—get sick from foodborne illness each year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year and 3,000 Americans die of foodborne diseases.  In addition to the human suffering and pain, foodborne illness costs the United States more than $15.6 billion each year.

Durbin continued, “The FDA is failing to uphold its most basic food safety responsibility:  inspecting facilities.  Over the past decade, the number of inspections it performs has fallen by nearly 60 percent.  And to add insult to injury:  The decline happened after Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, a 2011 bill which I authored that instructed the FDA to increase the number of inspections it performs.”

“Even when the FDA performs an inspection—and identifies a threat to public health—it doesn’t take timely action,” said Durbin.  “Not even when the problem can sicken and even kill adults, children and infants.  It’s hard to imagine.  The FDA is adrift.  And our most vulnerable people in America—children, mothers, and older Americans are at risk.”

The Food Safety Administration Act would establish the Food Safety Administration under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by incorporating the existing food programs within FDA into this separate agency. This agency would be led by a food safety expert confirmed by the Senate.

Durbin concluded, “On behalf of the nearly 15 million Americans who contract a foodborne illness each year and tens of thousands who are hospitalized, it's time to stop talking about it and do something.  The FDA failed my constituent Mary Billman along with 3,000 Americans like her who lose their lives every year to foodborne illness.  Many of these deaths are preventable but they'll keep happening if we don't fix our nation's food safety system… There is absolutely no excuse for allowing the FDA’s food safety failures to persist.  With our legislation, we can replace this broken system with one that will finally protect our families.”

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.