As much of Washington, D.C. focused on striking a deal on the
debt ceiling last week — and long term deficit reduction — six people
whose lives have been severely impacted by tainted food told lawmakers
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be spared the
discretionary budget ax.
House Republicans passed an appropriations bill that would cut $285
million from FDA, including an $87 million cut to food safety, right as
the agency begins to implement the ambitious new FDA Food Safety
Modernization Act. Food safety advocates are now working hard to ensure
the Senate — and any deal further down the road — is more generous to FDA,
which oversees 80 percent of the U.S. food supply.
Dozens of foodborne illness victims trekked to D.C. over the past few years to push for the new food safety law, which has been widely hailed as the first significant
update to federal food safety policy since 1938, and now they’d like to
see Congress fund it.
Victims and advocates from Nevada, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and
Missouri shared their stories last week with key senators and staff on the Senate
Appropriations Committee, including Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chair of
the agriculture subcommittee, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and
paid visits to their congressional representatives.
Pat Buck, who co-founded the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and
Prevention after losing her young grandson to E. coli O157:H7 infection, has
become a tireless advocate for food safety reform and attended several
of the meetings last week.
“We’ve already lost so many years, FDA has been underfunded for two
decades and now we’ve got to get the funding,” said Buck. “This was a
bipartisan bill supported by the House and the Senate, that doesn’t
happen that often … there are certain things government has to do.”
“The new law is great, but it won’t change things very much if Congress
doesn’t provide funding to implement the law’s provisions.”
Seventeen-year-old Matthew Larimer from Overland Park, Kansas is one of
the lucky ones. Larimer overcame a serious battle with E. coli O157:H7 after eating a contaminated hamburger at the age of eight. His fight
with hemolytic uremic syndrome necessitated a blood transfusion and it
took years for him to recover and return to normal activity.
Now a healthy, competitive high school swimmer, Larimer hopes his
advocacy can help prevent others from going through what he did. “I
almost died. If we don’t get this passed more people will probably die.”
“They won’t give me a hard commitment,” he adds, when asked if staff had been receptive to his call for funding. “I hope so.”
Pictured: Matthew Larimer, 17, Overland Park, Kansas.