The size of government is a hot topic these days. Whether you think government should be big or small, we can all agree government has a role in ensuring the safety of our food and keeping producers and processors accountable.

As a mom, I don’t want to worry that when I open a bag of spinach or lettuce or put alfalfa sprouts on a salad that my kids might get sick. However, the food-safety laws at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not been updated since the Great Depression, and without significant improvements, the healthy foods I want to feed my children will continue to be at greater risk for contamination.

The price of foodborne illness is also significant. A recent report, issued by the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, estimates the total health-related costs of foodborne illness to be $152 billion per year. This includes costs related to hospital stays, doctors’ visits, and medications.

In Nebraska, for just one year, this report shows $881 million dollars is spent on foodborne illnesses.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the bill that the U.S. Senate will hopefully vote on soon, will update our food-safety laws for our 21st century food supply. There is a good chance of getting a vote in the Senate before the end of June, but only if you help.

A similar bill, HR 2749, passed the House already. Rep. Fortenberry (NE-2) and Rep. Terry (NE-2) voted for the bill. Unfortunately, Rep. Smith (NE-3), who represents a huge portion of Nebraska that has farmland, voted against the bill.

You would think food safety is one of those issues we can all agree on, right? I mean, who doesn’t want our food to be safe?

Well, the good news is, food safety is bi-partisan. The bill in the Senate (S. 510) is co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, like Sen. Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Alexander (R-TN). You also have big industry groups like Grocery Manufacturers America working with members of the Make Our Food Safe coalition.

There is some concern from small producers that the bill might do more harm than good. However, lawmakers including Sen. Stabenow (D-MI) are making sure the bill gets amended to fix those concerns.

Overall, the areas that need to be updated to make our food safe are:

Risk-based inspection, including a minimum annual inspection frequency. Right now, food manufacturing facilities are only inspected about once every 10 years. Legislation should set as a minimum requirement that FDA-regulated high-risk facilities be inspected at least once a year.

Mandatory recall authority. Currently, the FDA does NOT have recall authority, which is necessary to protect public health. The FDA must be given authority to mandate recalls.

We all have a role in taking action. You can help make our food safe…

Email Senator Nelson and Johanns using this form. Urge them both to vote “yes” on S. 510 and make our food and families safe.

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