Mr. President, I am here today to highlight the urgency of passing the legislation to overhaul our Nation's food safety system. The last time the FDA's law related to food was changed in any substantial way was 1938. Think of how things have changed since that time: food coming in from all over the world. We think about all of the new producers and the new processing plants and the new kinds of food we have that weren't available in 1938. An overhaul of the food safety system is long overdue, and so is the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Food safety reform should have passed Congress and should have been signed into law months ago. I have stood in this Chamber many times saying the same thing. Each time, each month, something new comes up where people get hurt or people die. Whether it is jalapeno peppers or peanut butter or more recently eggs, these outbreaks of foodborne illness and nationwide recalls of contaminated food highlight the need to better protect our Nation's food supply. We need to fix it.
The good news is we know how we can do it and we have legislation sitting right here on the table that could go a long way toward helping families at their own kitchen tables. The bad news is this legislation has been stalled in the Senate since last November.
This legislation is, first of all, comprehensive. It covers everything from ensuring a safe food supply at the front end to ensuring a rapid response if tainted food gets into the supply chain.
I wish to respond to a few points my colleague from Oklahoma raised. First he noted that somehow the FDA didn't need the authority to recall. In fact, right after the last outbreak, the egg issue, the eggs in Iowa, the FDA Commissioner came out and said she needed additional authority to do a recall. So let's set the record straight on that. That was wrong.
Secondly, I would point out that this legislation is bipartisan. It has both Democratic and Republican sponsors and it passed through the committee, the committee on which the Presiding Officer serves, last November with bipartisan support. Food safety is not a partisan issue and it shouldn't be. It is a national issue of public health and public safety. Do my colleagues know what else? It is a business issue. So when I heard my colleague from Oklahoma talk about how somehow it was going to hurt the bottom line, I wish to know why the grocery stores of America support this bill. Does anyone think they are not worried about their bottom line?
I would like to know why companies such as General Mills support this bill, and why companies such as Schwan's in Marshall, MN, one of the biggest frozen producers in the country--the No. 1 issue they raised with me was passing this bill. Do you think Schwan's is a company that doesn't care about the bottom line?
You haven't met their business executive, I say to my friend from Oklahoma. Their focus is on jobs, making money, and producing a good product.
So why do these businesses that are so clearly concerned about their bottom line care about passing this bill? Guess what. These bad actors--whether it is the peanut butter factory in Georgia or whether it is the egg place that had rats in it--these bad actors hurt all the good actors out there, the good food producers and good farmers and all of the companies that put in safety measures. That is why the companies, the grocery stores, SuperValue, and these kinds of companies want to get this bill passed. They think having bad food out there is not only bad for consumers when they get sick or die, but it is bad for their bottom line. That is why there is industry support for the bill.
Finally, this legislation addresses a very serious issue--and this was the most difficult thing to hear from my friend from Oklahoma. You all know in our State about the case of Shirley Ahlmer, a grandmother. She fought cancer and survived it. She was ready to go home for Christmas, and she ate a little piece of peanut butter toast. That grandmother died because of that peanut butter toast.
I don't want to hear about how it is not worth it for the people of America, that it is going to cost the people of America, until you talk to Shirley's son Jeff and find out what it cost his family because there wasn't an adequate food inspection system in this country. That is what this is about.
One other thing that was not true was when my colleague from Oklahoma talked about the tomato recall. That was true, and it was misdiagnosed. They said the wrong thing. It was actually jalapeno peppers. They said it was tomatoes.
Why should we keep the same food system in place now if people are out there calling the wrong card and saying tomatoes caused this and tomato prices go down and people who produce them get hurt and instead it is jalapeno peppers? Meanwhile people are getting sick across the country. Why would the answer be that we have a great system and let's not change it? The answer is we have to change the system.
The other thing is, both the peanut butter contamination and the jalapeno peppers, do you know who called it right? The State of Minnesota. It was the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Health Department. None of it got identified until people got sick in the State of Minnesota. That makes us proud of our State. But we would have rather not lost three people in the peanut butter crisis and said: Guess what, we got it right.
What we can do is take the system we have in Minnesota, which is common sense, and instead of just having this problem sit on a county nurse's desk, we have graduate students who can work together and make calls and figure out what caused this when people got sick, and ask: What did you eat yesterday? It is that simple.
The part of the bill which Senator Chambliss and I sponsored is to use that model--not make every State do it but say, let's look at the best practices in four regions of the country and see if we can improve the system so we can catch these illnesses quicker and respond better and have less people die or get sick.
When I look at all of the issues raised by my colleague, the bottom line for businesses is this: Businesses in this industry support this bill. When I look at the issue of consumer safety, all you have to do is go and look at what happened to Shirley Ahlmer.
When I look at the issue of what is better for the consumers of this country, I don't think anybody wants to get sick from eggs that have Salmonella. It is unacceptable, Mr. President.
I hope anybody who was listening to my colleague from Oklahoma has also listened to this because it is very easy to make these claims. Let me tell you, one, the people who do this work say they need more authority to do recalls and to do it right. The businesses that are affected by the food safety outbreaks need a better system. They don't want to get stuck in one from back in 1938. The people hurt by this, or family members killed by this, say we need improvement. That is why this bill has bipartisan support and why three-fourths of the Senate supported moving forward on the debate.
I hope this delay will end and that we will get this done so that when families sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, they will at least know there is hope in the future that we are not set back in the inspection system that we had in 1938.
I yield the floor.