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Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FARM, NUTRITION, AND BIOENERGY ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - December 14, 2007)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, food safety is very much on the minds of many Americans today, and the reason is as obvious as the newspaper headlines in recent months.

From the Washington Post on November 29th: ``Bad Pet Food May Have Killed Nearly 350.''

From the October 31 New York Times: ``Chinese Chemicals Flow Unchecked to Market.''

From The Associated Press on September 27: ``Hamburgers may be tainted with E. Coli.''

Suddenly, there is a danger that E. coli is present in many typical foods. An E. coli outbreak in spinach last summer killed 3 people and sickened more than 200 others. In recent months, E. coli has lead to the recall of over 20 million pounds of ground meat. We have also had salmonella in peanut butter and snack food and botulism in a chili product. Even unlabeled allergens can routinely lead to the recall of food. These examples, and the sharp decline of consumer confidence in food safety, make clear that Congress must act quickly to deal with the problem.

The FDA Science Board issued an alarming report last month, concluding that the ``FDA does not have the capacity to ensure the safety of food for the nation.''

In his years in both the House and now the Senate, Senator Durbin has been a leader in efforts to improve food safety--from his Safe Food Act to the Human and Pet Food Safety Act. He offered a food safety amendment on the FDA bill last May that we accepted 94 to 0, and it was included in the final bill approved by Congress and signed by the President in September. I commend his working with us to produce an amendment to the farm bill to address the issue now with the new urgency it requires.

Because of the work of Senator Durbin, the farm bill includes a commission to investigate food safety and make recommendations to the President and Congress, including specific legislative proposals and budget estimates. The amendment we have offered builds on the work of the commission. It requires the President to submit a legislative proposal in response to the commission's recommendations, with Congress following up with appropriate action. It also includes a sense-of-the-Senate provision that the Congress must approve more resources for food safety, must work for a comprehensive response on the issue, and that the Federal Government must work cooperatively with foreign governments to improve the safety of imported food.

I agree with Senator Durbin that we need make more effective progress on food safety. Both the European Union and Japan have stronger food safety programs than we do. Most significantly, they have much stronger programs on imported food, combining inspections in the country of origin and the testing of imported foods. We should be able to do at least as well.

Federal food safety agencies need power to identify food safety problems more quickly and respond more effectively, especially to prevent outbreaks in food. Every aspect of the food industry must have an effective plan in place to prevent hazards in the food it grows, prepares, or markets.

A hearing in the HELP Committee earlier this month began this process. I am committed to achieving a comprehensive response to food safety, and I look forward to working with Senator Enzi, Senator Durbin, Senator Harkin, and my other colleagues on the committee to develop that proposal early in the new year. Our amendment to the farm bill will require the President to follow up in 2009 or early 2010 with a further legislative proposal if additional efforts are needed to improve the safety of our food supply.

Every day, parents across the Nation prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their children. They expect these meals to nourish their children, not sicken them. Action by Congress is essential to avoid the risk that a fruit served for breakfast is contaminated with salmonella or that the meat or cheese added to a lunch sandwich is contaminated with listeria or that fish served for dinner contains antibiotic residues or that the lettuce and other fresh produce in a salad is contaminated with E. coli.

We all must act together, and I am grateful to Senator Durbin and the managers of the farm bill, Senator Harkin and Senator Chambliss, for working with us to make this amendment possible.


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