In 2006, I almost died after eating spinach contaminated with E. coli. I spent nearly a month in and out of multiple emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. When I was able to return home, I had lost nearly 20 percent of my total body weight, and my recovery lasted five additional months of continuous treatment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 128,000 people are hospitalized each year as a result of food-borne illness and another 3,000 die. I consider myself lucky to be one among the former, rather than the latter. As a result of my experience, I have devoted a great deal of my time and energy to ensuring the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) reaches its promise.
As a participant at multiple public hearings FDA held on the produce standard, I have heard the criticisms. If there are additional members of the agricultural industry who did not take advantage of these meetings, I would encourage them to have their voice heard by submitting comment to the agency. Attempting to derail vitally important public health safeguards is not the answer.
Having worked to see FSMA passed, I know the legislative process included extensive debate from stakeholders to ensure this law is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Exemptions and modified requirements for small farms as well as staggered compliance periods, based on size of operations, will be in place. Additionally, I know there are opportunities to seek technical assistance from the FDA.
Since FSMA became law, there have been 19 reported multi-state outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to FDA-regulated foods. Resulting illnesses from outbreaks such as these are estimated to negatively impact the economy by more than $70 billion dollars in health-related costs each year.
The consequences for any further delay are dire.
Lauren Threlkeld Bush
New York, NY