Booker, DeLauro Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Better Protect Americans from Foodborne Illnesses

Legislation enables improved monitoring of CAFOs during outbreaks or when there is a public health need

SEPTEMBER 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the bicameral Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act (EFSIA), legislation that would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the authority to collect microbial samples from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) during outbreaks or when there is a public health need. U.S. 

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the bill in the House.

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans fall victim to foodborne diseases each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The CDC also reports that many of these foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria and other microbes originating in animal agriculture. Further, over 55 percent of foodborne Salmonella illnesses are attributed to animals and animal products. And the harmful bacteria from animal production facilities can contaminate fields of produce, posing an ongoing threat to consumers. For example, during a 2018 romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak investigation, the FDA traced the strain of outbreak E. coli to an irrigation canal near a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) with 100,000 cattle. The FDA also determined that nearby cattle were likely the source of E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce in 2019. The extensive use of antibiotics in animal agriculture could also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, further endangering public health. CAFOs exacerbate these issues with sewage accumulation and runoff, along with a significant volume of antibiotic use.

Despite these dangers posed to public health by the animals in the country’s food system, public health agencies like the FDA and CDC face limitations in their ability to fully investigate and understand the problem since they lack the authority to enter farms and conduct microbial sampling. The animal industry has also impeded investigators from accessing farms during outbreaks which further hinder their efforts to identify the source of outbreaks and develop preventive measures.

“This bicameral legislation is a necessary step towards addressing the threats posed by foodborne illnesses stemming from animal agriculture and ensuring better transparency in our food system,” said Senator Booker. “By empowering our public health agencies to investigate and respond to outbreaks effectively, we can reduce the incidence of foodborne diseases, promote public health, and save lives.”

“It is clear that corporate consolidation has negatively impacted the safety of our nation’s food,” said Representative DeLauro. “This is compounded by a weak and disempowered FDA, which has few tools to hold corporations accountable, investigate outbreaks, and get contaminated food off the market. Under current law, multinational corporations have the power to stop an FDA foodborne illness investigation in its tracks. That cannot stand. That is why I am reintroducing the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act, which gives FDA the ability to investigate corporate agribusinesses and uphold its mission of protecting public health.”

“These farms are part of the food system, and they can be a source of illness. They shouldn’t be allowed to slam the barn door shut when public health investigators come looking for answers,” said Sarah Sorscher, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at The George Washington University, Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, Environmental Working Group, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food and Water Watch, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Stop Foodborne Illness.

The full text of the bill can be found here.