Senator Durbin’s statement today hit the nail on the head with regard to food safety:

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today that the recently released National Academy of Sciences report, “Enhancing Food Safety: The Role of the FDA” highlights the need for an overhaul of the nation’s current food safety system.

The 500-page report highlights several shortcomings at Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:

* outdated legal authority for the agency – specifically no mandatory recall authority or ability to ban food imports from foreign countries when there is a risk of contamination;

* failure to employ a risk-based approach to identify the greatest threats for food contamination;

* too few inspections of food processing facilities and an inefficient use of inspection resources; and

* failure to effectively co-ordinate with states to conduct facility inspections.

Durbin and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) led the effort to require the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine to conduct a comprehensive review of FDA’s food safety system and report to Congress on its findings.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of major threats to our food safety system –from peanut butter spiked with salmonella to spinach laced with e-coli and chili loaded with botulism. These are not isolated incidents, and this National Academy of Sciences report reveals a food safety system that is outdated, inefficient and overwhelmed,” said Durbin. “Congress must give the FDA the necessary tools and resources to bring food safety oversight into the 21st Century.”

Durbin is the co-author of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, legislation that will provide a comprehensive approach to food safety in order to prevent future illness and death due to food-borne illness. The bill addresses head-on some of the issues surrounding food recalls by increasing the frequency of inspections at all food facilities; giving the FDA expanded access to records and testing results, and allowing the FDA to recall dangerous food products in the event a company fails to recall a product at the FDA’s request.

“This report is one of the clearest statements we have seen that the FDA’s approach to keeping our nation’s food supply safe is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul. Food-borne illnesses caused by salmonella and e-coli contamination contribute to more than 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year,” said Durbin. “We cannot allow that to continue.”

Durbin teamed up with Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to introduce bipartisan legislation last year to revamp the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety system. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Enzi (D-WY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), John Isakson (R-GA), Roland Burris (D-IL), Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Udall (D-NM), David Vitter (R-LA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Action on the bill is slated for later this summer.

Durbin has a vested interest, politically and otherwise, in this important piece of legislation.  His home state of Illinois has been battered by two large outbreaks, one due to Shigella bacteria and the other still being investigated, due to Salmonella, at Subway restaurants statewide.  See:

Illinois Subway Salmonella outbreak case count up to 68; and

Shigella outbreak at Lombard, Illinois Subway