The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report shows that infections from E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Vibrio are all on the rise. E. coli cases reported to CDC's FoodNet rose 50 percent since 2004, and Vibrio, another potentially deadly pathogen in shellfish, rose a whopping 78 percent since FoodNet began (1996-1998).
The new data show that federal food safety agencies are failing in their job to protect Americans from foodborne illness. In the last six months, huge outbreaks associated with spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter and lettuce shook Americans' confidence in the safety of the food supply. Even pet food has been recalled after an outbreak affecting thousand of cats and dogs. The Government Accountability Office recently put food safety on the list of high risk programs. Clearly, these programs are failing and need to be fixed.
Consider the 78 percent hike reported today in illnesses due to Vibrio, a dangerous, often deadly bacteria found in raw oysters and other raw shellfish. The Food and Drug Administration leaves it to an industry-dominated Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference to keep shellfish safe. That approach has obviously failed.
Food safety in Washington is a shell game, with one cabinet secretary in charge of E. coli on beef and another cabinet secretary in charge if it shows up on spinach. The food safety programs are under funded and minimally staffed. Vacancies and reductions in force are rampant. CDC's report clearly shows that the programs aren't working, and Congress should intervene to provide increased funding to the FDA in the short run and ultimately dismantle this regulatory hodgepodge and create a single, strong agency to ensure the safety of our food.