Four-year-old Jake Hurley is one of the lucky ones.
Jake was among the over 700 people sickened by Salmonella-tainted peanut butter last year. Ultimately, 200 were hospitalized and 9 were killed in the nationwide Salmonella outbreak, which sparked one of the largest food recalls in American history–over 4,000 products were affected. Fortunately, Jake survived his battle with Salmonella without any life-long complications.
Today Jake and his dad, Peter Hurley, walked the halls of the Senate, with over a dozen other families who have been affected by foodborne illness, to lobby for S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which would beef up FDA authority and increase food processor inspections.
Jake’s horrific two-week bout with Salmonella inspired his family to start advocating for stronger food laws. “I want to focus on the bill so that other people don’t have to go through this,” said Peter, who traveled from Oregon to participate in the meetings.
“For me, in a sense, it’s a no-brainer, it’s not like so many other things that people come and lobby for,” it’s not about special interests. “Every single American wakes up and has something to eat,” this affects everyone, from the strictest vegan to the guy who only eats power bars, explains Peter.
The lobby day, an effort coordinated by the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, which is made up of public health and consumer advocacy groups, had one overarching message for Senators: it is time to act.
“Our message is simple. We want strong federal food safety legislation on the president’s desk before the end of the year–we want it under the Christmas tree,” said Sandy Eskin, Deputy Director of the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Though the coalition is well aware of resource and time constraints due to pending health care reform, advocates and victims remain hopeful, and will keep pushing until a bill is signed into law.
Senate staff seemed to share the optimism. “We believe this is the year,” said Albert Sanders, the lead staffer on the bill for Senator Durbin (D-IL), who introduced the bill. “We’re all systems a-go.”
“Today, we’re closer than we’ve been to getting a bill, we’re on the cusp..” added Sanders. Senator Harkin (D-IA) and Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) sent staff to the coalition’s press conference to assure the group that food safety remains a top priority, though all reiterated that progress could only come after health care.
The families lobbying Senators and staff seemed to walk away from the event with guarded optimism.
Though, overall, meetings were constructive and staffers were receptive to the concerns of victims, none of the families were able to get firm commitments from staffers on the timing of the bill.
Pictured: (1) Jake Hurley smiles in the hall after meeting with Senator Wyden’s (D-OR) staff. (2) Albert Sanders, from Senator Durbin’s office addresses the coalition and victims at breakfast before the meetings. Photos by Helena Bottemiller.