A senator and representative have introduced legislation that would give the FDA and CDC authority to enter and collect samples at feedlots during foodborne illness outbreaks.

Federal agencies currently cannot collect samples from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) unless the operators voluntarily give them access. This has impeded investigations into foodborne illness outbreaks, especially those associated with leafy greens grown next to CAFOs, according to Sen. Cory Booker, D-RI, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT.

The two have introduced the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act (EFSIA), seeking to give the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority to collect microbial samples from CAFOs during outbreaks or when there is a public health need. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, cosponsors the legislation.

The legislation has widespread support from consumer groups.

“These farms are part of the food system and 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.

Booker and DeLauro contend harmful bacteria from animal production facilities can contaminate produce fields, 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 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.

“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 (animal) 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,” Booker said when announcing the proposed legislation.

Booker also said the legislation would improve transparency in the country’s food system.

DeLauro agreed and said that corporate animal farming has created hazards in the country’s food supply that could be lessened if the FDA had the authority to investigate foodborne outbreaks more thoroughly.

“It is clear that corporate consolidation has negatively impacted the safety of our nation’s food,” said 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 can stop an FDA foodborne illness investigation in its tracks. That cannot stand.”

The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at 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.