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Act now to upgrade "antiquated" food safety system, says health group (10/8)

October 8, 2009
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To mark Food Safety Action Day, Trust for America's Health (TFAH) calls on the U.S. Senate to act expeditiously to reform the nation's food safety system, according to a TFAH press release.

"The food safety system hasn't been fundamentally modernized for about 100 years. Technologies and processes have changed a lot since then, and it's about time we bring food safety laws and policies into the 21st century. We need to upgrade safety standards, inspection practices, outbreak detection capabilities, and recall systems," said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH. "The current fragmented, antiquated system has tragic consequences. Millions of Americans get needlessly sick and thousands die each year from foodborne illnesses that could have been prevented. The Senate should act now to modernize food safety laws to effectively deal with today's biggest threats."

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin has introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would focus on reforming the food safety system to focus on preventing foodborne illness outbreaks instead of maintaining a reactive system that only responds after an outbreak has already occurred. In July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009.

Approximately 76 million Americans — one in 4 — are sickened by foodborne diseases each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Medical costs and lost productivity due to foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are estimated to cost $44 billion annually.

In recent years, there have been a series of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks, including Salmonella contamination of peanut butter products and jalapeño and Serrano peppers, E. coli outbreaks in spinach and lettuce; along with reports on dangerous cattle slaughter practices and unsafe farm-raised fish in China.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Science Board concluded that the U.S. food supply "grows riskier each year" and the Government Accountability Office found federal oversight of food safety to be one of the government's "high risk" programs.

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