Paul F. Schwarz
To the editor:
As the peanut trial concludes, the need for fully funding food safety continues,
Last week, three individuals were found guilty in a federal courtroom for actions that killed nine people and sickened 700 people between 2008 and 2009, including 15 cases in Missouri.
The executives of the now-defunct Peanut Corp. of America, which had a plant in Georgia, were charged with knowingly shipping contaminated peanut products across state lines and defrauding customers with fake lab results attesting to their safety, among other charges. As a result, more than 100 people were hospitalized with Salmonella infections.
This case comes on the heels of another, in Iowa, where representatives of Wright County Egg pleaded guilty to introducing salmonella-tainted eggs into interstate commerce in 2010. More than 1,000 people were sickened in the resulting outbreak.
And in January, the owners of Jensen Farms in Colorado pleaded guilty to charges that they shipped contaminated melons, which were linked to the deadliest bout of foodborne illness in the U.S. since 1924. The Listeria infections sickened 147 people and killed 33, including my father, Paul A. Schwarz Jr., who lived in Kansas City.
My dad fought for three months against the illness that paralyzed his legs and wreaked havoc on his brain. A veteran of World War II and two-time recipient of the Purple Heart, he finally succumbed due to bacteria in his breakfast fruit.
As these high-profile trials continue to make headlines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to implement a law intended to prevent cases like my father’s. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is the first major update to the agency food safety program in 70 years but has no agreement in place to fully fund the act.
The outbreaks continue. Since FSMA was signed into law in 2011, 28 multi-state outbreaks of foodborne illness have been reported. Every year, infections from pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria lead to an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. – with an annual price tag of $77 billion.
Since my father’s passing, I’ve testified in our nation’s capital about the need to secure full funding for the law. FDA estimates that it needs an additional $300 million over the next two to three years to fully implement FSMA. The appropriations bills for FY2015 provide only $24 million in additional funding, which is woefully inadequate.
But for families like mine, the protections promised by FSMA are priceless, and the guilty verdict last week – while justified – does little to bring our loved ones back to health. No one should experience the heartbreak of watching a loved one suffer from simply eating food. With a fully funded law in place, perhaps they never will.