Mandatory Recall and Traceability Key to Ensuring Safe Foods
WASHINGTON – As the nation’s food safety system is rocked by an outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes, Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) pressed for comprehensive reform of our food safety system by granting the government mandatory recall authority supported by a traceability system during the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing entitled, “American Lives Still at Risk: When Will FDA’s Food Protection Plan Be Fully Funded and Implemented?” DeGette’s mandatory recall authority is included in the Committee’s discussion draft, the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008. The Washington Post editorialized today in support of DeGette’s mandatory recall authority and traceability proposals.
Below is Congresswoman DeGette’s opening statement as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your continuing efforts to investigate the obviously broken food safety system in this country.
“Little did we know when you scheduled this hearing several weeks ago that it would occur in the middle of yet another nationwide outbreak of foodborne illness.
“The salmonella outbreak in raw tomatoes has now expanded to at least 17 states, with 167 people sick and dozens hospitalized. Businesses nationwide have pulled tomatoes from their shelves, leaving tons of food to rot and an entire industry of farmers, employees and small businesses in trouble.
“But the FDA, hobbled by dwindling resources, conflicting missions, cuts in staffing and low morale, has not been able to identify the source of the contamination.
“Sadly, we’ve been here before.
“This salmonella outbreak is just the latest in a steady stream of incidents over the past year. I look forward to hearing from the FDA what it has done since it released its “Food Protection Plan” in November. While there is much desirable language in that document about what needs to be done in the abstract, I hope this hearing will help us clarify the specifics about what the FDA will do, how much it will cost, and give us an update on the tomato outbreak.
“I’d also like to know if the agency has learned anything from previous outbreaks that it is putting to use in the tomato incident. To be frank, it doesn’t sound like it, because we still can’t trace the source of the salmonella contamination in tomatoes.
“I am encouraged that the FDA submitted to Congress this week a supplemental budget request for the agency. I know many members of this subcommittee were dumbfounded when this administration originally denied a need for additional resources, but I’m glad we’re all on the same page now.
“And I hate to sound like a broken record in this subcommittee, but there is common-sense legislation pending that would create a comprehensive food traceability system so we wouldn’t experience delays like we are seeing in the tomato market at this very moment.
“The events over the past few days have shown once again that the FDA is incapable of quickly identifying the source of contamination when it occurs. What exists today is a complicated system of going through records of individual companies to locate their suppliers, their suppliers’ suppliers, wholesalers, distribution centers, processing facilities, gathering warehouses and farms. This process began in the tomato outbreak back in April.
“Given the advanced technology of today, this information should be easily accessible in an instant. That’s what my bill, H.R. 3485, the TRACE Act, would do.
“In fact, traceability is already being done by certain individual companies and I want to build upon their successes to form a comprehensive, national system. For example, we all know that UPS and FedEx can instantaneously locate a package anywhere in the world and access its status at every stage along its route. In the food industry, Dole Foods and many beer distributers can trace their products throughout the supply chain.
“Many small and large businesses have developed high-tech tracing systems, from bar coding, to GPS, to laser technology. In fact, a Colorado company has pioneered a process to laser numerical codes onto individual eggs and even food produce like tomatoes, allowing consumers to trace the “farm to fork” distribution from their home computer.
“IBM Consulting is advising its clients that food traceability is a sound business investment, given the importance of brand preservation and risk management.
“Exciting things are happening in this field, but sadly the federal government has not gotten on board. Instead, once again, we have a salmonella outbreak in tomatoes, with people getting sick in my home state of Colorado and across the country, yet the FDA is in its third month of attempting to trace the source of contamination.
“Obviously it would be best to focus our resources to build quality into our food system to make sure contamination never occurs in the first place. But we absolutely must have better procedures in place to deal with an emergency of this scale.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this morning. Given the salmonella outbreak in the news, I would particularly like them all to address how we can improve food product traceability in this country.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”