In 2002, in the middle of the recall of 21,000,000 pounds of E. coli O157:H7-tainted ConAgra beef that sickened 50 Americans and killed one grandmother, I wrote an Op-Ed saying that it was time to “put me out of business.” People generally hate trial lawyers like me, and I said that the best way to get rid of me would be to stop poisoning people with contaminated food. My entire practice would evaporate overnight, and I’m fine with that. In fact, it’s been my goal for 16 years.
Since that outbreak in 2002, millions more have been sickened and permanently disabled by food tainted with Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter, and other pathogens. Thousands have lost their lives. In that same time period Congress has had more than 20 hearings on food safety – many attended by my clients – but hasn’t enacted comprehensive legislation. Industry has done even less.
There is now a bill up for a vote on the House floor today, HR 2749, which would change that. The bill would greatly strengthen the FDA’s power to regulate 80% of food economy. It unanimously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June. HR 2749 would give the FDA the power to order food recalls and set record-keeping standards for food facilities, as well as and mandate an increased frequency of inspections. What it certainly will do is reduce the enormous number of foodborne illness outbreaks, keep kids out of ICUs and off dialysis, and increase the overall safety of our food.
It is time to step up and pass the first meaningful food safety legislation in 50 years. It’s time for the left to stop making perfect the enemy of good. It’s time for the right to get out of the way of consumer protection in the name of industry protection. It’s time for all of us to acknowledge that ensuring safety in a sprawling, global food system is not free, or without pain. It is past time for every part of the food economy – regardless of size – to become part of the system, to share in the costs of the system, and to promote the safety of the system.
There is a great deal of resistance from smaller food producers, who feel that the bill will unfairly burden them. Here is my promise: if the effects of the bill turn out to be onerous for small food producers – those that sell food to neighbors or at farmer’s markets – I will personally take up the effort to amend the bill.
In the mean time, I urge everyone who cares about safe food to call his or her Congressperson and urge passage of HR 2749. It really is long past time to “put me out of business.”