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Public Statements

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. DODD. I want to address the issue that has been talked about by my friend from Georgia; that is, the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety and Modernization Act. I commend my colleagues and those who have been involved, as we have been, for weeks and weeks on end now to produce this bill, which I am hopeful our colleagues will support.

We have enjoyed a few days off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the centerpiece of which is, of course, the great meal with family and friends. It is fitting at the wake of that, that we gather to deal with the issue of food safety, a bill that is intended to help ensure the safety of the food we feed our families and loved ones each and every day in this country.

One of the great things about being in this country is that every day we consume products with a sense of security that what we are ingesting or using is not going to cause us any great harm or put our lives in jeopardy. So it is important, particularly when you deal today with the processing of food that occurs, that reassurance, that sense of security that all Americans would like to have is going to be guaranteed to the maximum extent possible. Never perfect, obviously. None of us can engage in casting or creating ideas or legislation that is designed to produce perfection. But we have come close with this bill to providing that sense of security that all Americans deserve.

Before I speak about the substance of the bill, I want to take a moment to highlight the collaborative process that characterizes the construction of this bill. The bill is a bipartisan effort on the part of Senators Harkin, Enzi, Durbin, Gregg, Burr, and myself, along with 14 of our colleagues in this Chamber and is designed to strengthen the country's ability to address and hopefully prevent foodborne illnesses.

I realize the bipartisan road is not always easy to follow, but I can confidently say when we approach legislation in this manner we often end up with a better, stronger, and more responsive law in the end. I think this bill is an example of that. It was not always easy. We had our differences, obviously, but we overcame them in an effort to respond to an issue that impacts all Americans regardless of political affiliation and economic circumstance; that is, again, foodborne illnesses.

This collaborative process is not limited to Members and staff. I am including outside advocates and organizations. In fact, an impressive range of constituent groups, including the Consumers Union and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have provided valuable input in support during this process. Looking at the list of groups which support this bill says a great deal about the product itself. It says we cannot afford to ignore the topic of food safety any longer. It says our industries and consumers want to see good consistent policy in place to help prevent, and when they do occur, address these illnesses.

We have all heard the statistics. On average, 76 million Americans are sickened each year, and 5,000 die each year because of foodborne illnesses. But these are not just numbers. These are the lives of our fellow citizens in every region and economic group in the Nation. As the recall of a half billion eggs this summer due to Salmonella contamination has shown, foodborne illness is something that can impact a significant portion of our population at any given time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,800 people became ill due to these contaminated eggs. Let's not forget that the most vulnerable of our population suffer the most when stricken with foodborne illnesses, especially children.

One such life significantly impacted by a strain of E. coli was a constituent of mine in Wilton, CT. She survived the contaminated lettuce she consumed, but her life has been changed as a result.

There is a lot in this bill we can be proud of. I want to focus on one particular area that I have a concern with and have been involved in for years and years--it is food allergies.

Long before I had a family of my own, I got involved in the issue. But with the arrival of my first child, Grace, in 2001, we discovered shortly thereafter that she had serious food allergies. She had been in anaphylactic shock four or five times by the time she was 4 or 5. This is a great concern to her parents, obviously, as it is for millions of people in this country. Twelve million of our fellow citizens have food allergies, many with life-threatening ones, and we are watching the numbers grow.

According to those who keep these statistics, from 1997 to 2007 the prevalence of food allergies among children increased by 18 percent. Today, approximately 3 million children in the United States are suffering from one kind of food allergy or another. While food allergies were at one time considered relatively infrequent, they now rank third among chronic diseases in children under the age of 18. Peanuts are among the several allergenic foods that can produce life-threatening allergic reactions in children.

With this bill, what we have done here, is to develop a voluntary food allergy management guideline for preventing exposure to food allergens and ensuring a prompt response when a child suffers a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction. It also provides for school-based food allergy management incentive grants to local educational agencies to assist with the adoption and implementation of food allergy management guidelines in grades K through 12.

My State of Connecticut is one of eight that has already done this on their own. But a lot of other States, obviously, 42 have not. This bill voluntarily provides small amounts of grant money to States to help them develop these procedures that will minimize the kind of dangers that occur to children when they are exposed to food that can cause them life-threatening diseases and illness.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating 80 percent of the Nation's food supply. But for too long, the FDA has lacked the resources and authorities necessary to adequately protect our food. This bill recognizes we cannot underfund this critical agency and gives the FDA the tools necessary to protect our food and our health.

In fact this bill establishes, for the first time, a mandatory inspection schedule, which was a priority for many who worked so tirelessly on food safety. Under the provisions of S. 510 the number of inspections conducted by the FDA will increase from 7,400 in 2009 to nearly 50,000 in 2015. Mr. President, we need these inspections. We need to pass this bill.

I am hopeful that my colleagues will recognize the importance of passing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Because every family sitting down to dinner tonight deserves to know that all reasonable measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the food they are eating. It's time we put politics aside for the sake of America's families and get this bill passed.

I want to comment quickly, before my time expires, on the comments of my good friend from Georgia who just spoke, SAXBY CHAMBLISS. This was a difficult bill to put together. I commend my colleague from Montana, JON TESTER, who represents an awful lot of small farmers, small food processors.

Putting this bill together required compromise. It is what we do in this Chamber every single day, and so had we not included the Tester language in this bill I think we would have had a hard time passing the legislation. The argument would have been: Well, you have included the small truck farmers who, frankly, cannot subject themselves to the kind of rules that large produces of food can, and we would have put the whole bill in jeopardy.

By adopting the modified Tester language, we have made it possible for this bill to become law. So I commend my fellow Senator from Montana for his work. I commend Senator Harkin, the chairman of the committee, for bringing this all together to the point where, despite all of the allegations that this body cannot come to a common agreement on a matter as important as this one is wrong. We can when we work at it, and we have done so with this bill.

I urge my colleagues to be supportive of this very important and historic piece of legislation.

I yield the floor.

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