Karoun Demirjian of the Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau reported on a Senate hearing last week:

Pet food recall has lawmakers examining flaws – Senator Durbin calls safety procedures ‘broken’

Cans of dog food and anecdotes about the family cat are usually out of place at Senate hearings, but that’s what lawmakers talked about Thursday as the agriculture appropriations subcommittee examined the federal response to the nationwide recall of contaminated pet food.

Since mid-March, the deaths of 16 cats and dogs have been officially blamed on contaminated pet food. That figure — a conservative total in comparison to the unverified toll of more than 3,900 dead and 12,000 sick claimed by the online publication PetConnection.com — has alarmed pet-owning senators and the estimated 60 million American households that have pets.

Our poisoned animals are important, but for goodness sake, where are the hearings surrounding the hundreds of PEOPLE who have been sickend or died because of poisoned food? As I wrote in part in December of 2006:

One would think that with thousands of Americans poisoned by produce, hundreds hospitalized, many with severe, life-long complications or deaths, that Congress would have asked growers, producers, manufacturers, restaurants, grocers, and consumers to the table to talk about these ongoing outbreaks and how to prevent them in the future. But, Congress has been all too absent, all too willing to sit by and watch consumers become sickened or die from eating produce. Perhaps even more surprising is that Congress has not helped the multi-million and billion dollar corporate growers, producers, manufacturers, restaurants and grocers, help themselves by enacting food safety rules to avoid poisoned produce and sick customers in the future.

Congress needs to act now. What needs to be discussed:

* A thorough, scientifically-based discussion on how these recent outbreaks actually happened and what can be done to prevent or limit the next one.
* Increased funding for university-based research, health department epidemiological surveillance, and prevention of bacterial and viral contamination.
* Consideration of pre-consumption bacterial and viral testing of raw food products, especially those where no “kill step” is expected.
* A discussion of making mandatory good agricultural and food handling practices.
* A review of the proposal to create a single federal agency charged with ensuring the nation’s food safety, whether the food is grown within the United States or in foreign countries.

It is time for Congress to accept a leadership role and call hearings, not only to explore the reasons for the past months’ outbreaks, but also to help prevent the next one. Congress must reach out to all facets of the produce industry, from “farm to fork,” to consumers who bear the burden of illnesses, and to academics and regulators to find reasonable, workable solutions to prevent produce-related illnesses. More regulation may not help. Testing all products may not be feasible. More funding for enforcement for the FDA, CDC and USDA may not work. And, more funding for university research may also not be the answer. However, getting all to the same table is a start. Congress, you need to do the inviting.

See full Op-ed post at www.marlerblog.com.