Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) for August 17, 2008 -- Protecting Americans Through Food Safety

Posted on August 15, 2008

Americans should be able to go to the grocery store and out to dinner without having to worry about the safety of the food they are eating. Parents shouldn’t have to risk their child’s safety in school and wonder whether their son or daughter could suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction at the school lunch table. That’s why I’m supporting introducing legislation to help protect every American and help keep all of us healthy by improving and streamlining the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food safety efforts. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a bipartisan bill that gives the FDA new authorities, tools and resources to reform how the agency works to protect the safety of the American food supply. The legislation also includes key provisions from a food allergy bill that I cosponsored to help schools protect the more than 2.2 million children nationwide – including 41,000 Tennesseans – who suffer from life-threatening food allergies. In early August, the FDA announced the source of the recent salmonella outbreak was jalapeño peppers and not tomatoes, as previously thought. The three-month outbreak has sickened more than a thousand people and highlighted significant gaps in the FDA’s ability to adequately protect the nation’s food supply. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act addresses some of those failings by: • Authorizing new science-based standards for the safety of produce. • Increasing the frequency of inspections of all food facilities. • Establishing a new system for tracking and tracing-back fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness. • Giving the FDA mandatory recall authority in the event a company fails to recall a product at the FDA’s request. Food safety experts note that had any of these provisions been in place, the scope of the recent salmonella outbreak could have been drastically reduced and the FDA’s response time dramatically improved. In Nashville this June, Senator Bob Corker and country music star Trace Adkins, whose daughter suffers from serious food allergies, joined me to call for passage of another important bill -- the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act. This bipartisan legislation will provide guidelines and grants that will make it easier for schools to prevent food allergy emergencies and be as prepared as possible if one occurs. Parents should be able to send their children to school without worrying and their sons or daughters should be able to attend school and focus on learning and on having fun – not on what they can and can’t eat. We need to help our school administrators, teachers, and nurses have the best training possible to keep safe the 41,000 children in Tennessee and millions throughout the country who suffer from these potentially fatal allergies. Together these bills will help protect every American and help keep all of us healthy by improving the food safety efforts of the FDA and our nation’s school systems. They will provide greater peace of mind to us at the grocery store, the classroom, the dinner table or wherever Americans sit down to enjoy a meal or a snack. ###