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Public Statements

Unanimous-Consent Request--S. 510

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. REID. Mr. President, America has one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world, but it is not perfect. Foodborne illnesses sicken one in every four people every year. Twenty-five percent of people get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. As many as 5,000 Americans die from food poisoning every year.

The bill we are attempting to bring to the floor today is a very simple bill. It will make our food safer. It is a bipartisan bill that was reported out unanimously from the HELP Committee, and there have been negotiations going on for a long time--months and months.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, there is nobody in this country who doesn't want our food to be safe. There is no question, we all rely on the intent that the vast majority of food is safe in this country. There is no question that we have some problems with food safety. But the biggest problem we have is in fixing the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.

I hope America will pay attention to this. Ask yourself why it took the Food and Drug Administration 10 years to give us an egg safety standard and that no oversight committee of either the House or the Senate, through the previous 10 years, held an oversight hearing to ask why it has taken 10 years to get that egg safety standard. It came out 10 days afterwards, coincidentally, to the salmonella infection we have recently seen.

As a practicing physician who has treated Shigella, Salmonella, Yersinia pestis, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes, which are infectious gastrointestinal bacterial diseases that can come from food, I want it to be safe. What I want more than that is for the organization that is supposed to keep it safe to do its job. The problem with this bill, besides it not being paid for, is it doesn't fix the real problem.

The American public should know, if you go to the grocery store anywhere in this country and buy a pepperoni pizza, the FDA is responsible for food safety. But if you buy a cheese pizza, it is the USDA. How does that make any sense to anybody in America?

What happened on the farms in Iowa, as far as eggs, is the USDA knew there was a problem, but they didn't tell the FDA because the FDA is only responsible for the egg once it gets out of the chicken. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It was then shipped and was the responsibility of the FDA.

This bill doesn't address any of those problems. As we look to solve a very critical and real problem--and I acknowledge Senator Durbin's work on this and that of our chairman and ranking member. I had a staff member at every meeting they had raising these same objections. We now have a bill that will cost the American public $1.5 billion over the next 5 years that doesn't fix the real problem.

The real problem is the lack of focus of the agencies to do their job. It does not eliminate the crossover and lack of consistency. If you buy red meat in the store, you only have to trust one agency. But if you buy an egg, you have to trust two. If you buy a salad or lettuce, you have to trust two. They are not talking to one another. There is nothing in this bill that makes them do that.

What we have done is we have created a lot of new regulations, with a lot of money, without solving the real problem. The only way we get to the real problem is to have the FDA up here once a week for the next 4 weeks and have the USDA up here once a week for the next 4 weeks, talking about these critical crossover issues.

In the bill, it actually states that nothing in this act or an amendment made by this act shall be construed to alter the jurisdiction between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In other words, there is a prohibition to alter the responsibility so we might have safe food--in other words, to hold one agency accountable, rather than two so one can point the finger at the other. We had a House hearing today on the egg recall, and the fact is that is what happened. USDA knew there were problems. But the FDA didn't know there were problems until after somebody got sick.

So we create a high level of additional regulation, a high level of various inspections--and I am not against inspections. I eat salad like the rest of us. Sometimes I am not accused of being human, but, in fact, I consume the same food everybody else does. I don't want to get sick from it. But we can't continue to pass bills that pile on regulations that cost the American people $1.5 billion and don't fix the real problem. That is the problem. My objection is it is not paid for.

I will hear the objection that it is an authorizing bill. Oh, really. It is just an authorizing bill. So that means there is not any money going to be spent? Then we aren't passing the bill to do what we want it to do. Because if we say we are not responsible for spending another $1.5 billion, then there is no problem. It is not spending money. If it is not spending money, it is not going to do anything. But if it is spending money, we ought to decrease the priority somewhere else within the waste of the USDA--which there are billions--and within the FDA, which has tons of properties they are not using that could pay for this bill easily. We ought to eliminate the things that are not working.

So I want our food to be safe. As a practicing physician, I know the public health aspects of this bill. But I refuse to go forward when we continue to make the same mistakes that have given us a $1.4 trillion deficit and have given us lack of control and oversight of the bureaucracies. The biggest thing is, we are not holding anybody accountable for this because we will pass this. Then, the next time there is a food problem, in terms of contaminated food, we will pass something else. In between times, there will not be the first oversight hearing to say: What did we do that didn't work and show us a result that works. Is it efficient, effective, and did it improve the safety of the food? We will not do that. We will just react and pass another bill.

I am through passing bills that don't solve the real problems. I am through spending the next two generations' money, when we can't make the priority choices. The fact that we have refused to say we are going to eliminate something that is very low priority to be able to have a food safety bill, then that tells the American people we are not up to the task of getting us out of our problems.

I know everybody in this body wants safe food--even me. I am not tired of taking the hits for holding up this bill. We can't be perfect on food, but we can be a whole lot better. This bill can solve some of the problems, but it is not complete. It hasn't looked at the levels it needs to straighten out the bureaucracy on food safety. It hasn't eliminated the overlap. Nobody with any common sense says you will have pizzas in the grocery store, one controlled by the USDA and one by the FDA.

It is clueless. It does not fit. The reason the one that does not have any meat on it is controlled by the FDA is because it has a milk product. It has cheese. But the one that has pepperoni on it has cheese too. How did we get there? Where are we going to establish responsibility and accountability with the agencies that are responsible for food safety?

I look forward to working with the majority leader. I will take a less than perfect bill anytime. But I will not take a bill that is not paid for and does not come out of the hides of our children and grandchildren.

I yield the floor.


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