In February 2013, Lauren Bush delivered the following testimony at a public meeting held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, DC. The meeting was one of a series organized to receive comments on rules that FDA is proposing to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA.
During my junior year of college at the University of Kentucky, my life suddenly and irrevocably changed when I almost died after eating a spinach salad. What the doctors initially thought to be nothing more than a virus quickly escalated to a diagnosis of appendicitis. Through clenched teeth and unbearable pain, I argued with the doctors that this was incorrect and that something didn't feel right. It was like nothing I had ever felt before.
They began to suspect that I was right when I quickly took a turn for the worse and began to hemorrhage two days later. I found myself in class one day and in a hospital bed the next. I spent the next three weeks in and out of two hospitals, two emergency rooms, and three urgent-treatment facilities before I was well enough to go home and recover. I had lost nearly 20 pounds, and went from being an otherwise young, healthy student to an emotional and physical disaster — all in less than one month's time. I spent the next five months in recovery and on continuous antibiotics and vitamins from the resulting complications. I almost lost my colon; and I lost my dignity when I was unable to feed and care for myself. I was fortunate enough to return to school the following spring, but it was several months before I could walk to class without stopping to take a breath. And in some ways, my body will never be the same.
The positive side of enduring such a horrendous experience is that now through organizations like STOP Foodborne Illness, I have a voice. I live in New York City, and I have come to DC four times to speak to my representatives. I have also written blogs and been interviewed by the New York Times, all in an effort to tell my story as often and as loudly as I have to, in order to prevent someone else from getting sick and suffering. Foodborne illness leaves long-lasting, often invisible scars on its victims and their families.
I commend the Food and Drug Administration for its hard work and the progress that has been made with the release of the two draft rules, and I hope that the other proposed rules related to food imports will be released soon. Regarding the produce rule, I think the approach that FDA has proposed—to focus on all possible routes of contamination and establish requirements to prevent or reduce it — is the right way to go.
I hope that the proposed rules are finalized as soon as possible, and that the Food Safety Modernization Act is fully implemented and enforced so that it prevents further sickness and deaths related to our food system. Thank you for your time.