Finish the Congressional Plate

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The last mile of a race is always the longest. Years of work have culminated in the recent approval of sweeping food-safety legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives and by a key U.S. Senate committee, and now the finish line is in sight.

There have been too many outbreaks of food-borne illness in recent years; many have been linked to otherwise healthy foods like spinach, peppers and peanut butter products. These contamination problems not only harm consumers, they also result in reduced consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply and the loss of millions of dollars due to recalls and lost sales.

Legislation that would help prevent these frequent outbreaks could soon be on the president's desk, but only if Senate lawmakers make it a priority to pass this legislation. The Senate bill will strengthen our nation's food system by making prevention a central element and by providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with the resources and authorities it needs to adequately fulfill its food-safety mission.

FDA is responsible for safeguarding the nation's food supply and for protecting consumers from dangerous contaminants. However, inadequate budgets, limited enforcement authorities and outdated laws have hindered the agency's ability to do what is needed to help prevent outbreaks.

This legislation represents a significant opportunity to modernize our food-oversight system and restore the public's faith in the safety and security of the food supply.

Last July the House took the lead and overwhelmingly approved food-safety legislation with strong, bipartisan support. It was clear to House members that their constituents were hungry for a monumental overhaul of the nation's food-safety system. It is time for the full Senate to act.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have heard from voters across the country, and the message is loud and clear: meaningful reform must come now. A poll conducted over the summer and commissioned by the Pew Health Group found that among likely voters surveyed across the United States, nearly nine in 10 support the federal government adopting the additional food-safety measures included in the legislation.

While we represent different voices in the food-safety debate, we agree on this: Americans expect tough government oversight and they deserve to have confidence in the safety of the nation's food supply.

Giving FDA the additional authorities and tools it needs is an important first step in ensuring that the foods we eat are safe - but Congress must push this bill across the finish line.

Shelley A. Hearne is the managing director of the Pew Health Group. Robert E. Brackett is senior vice president and chief science and regulatory affairs officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

This op-ed was published by the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC).