"Consumer hysteria" about the safety of the U.S. food supply is warranted because of failures by government agencies, Democratic lawmaker Rosa DeLauro said after the nation's largest meat recall.
The Feb. 17 recall of 143.4 million pounds of beef from Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. isn't surprising after years of poor oversight and enforcement by the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration, Rep. DeLauro said Tuesday in an interview. She heads the House Appropriations Committee panel that sets the budgets for both agencies.
Criticism of U.S. regulators has increased in the past year after outbreaks of E. coli from spinach and beef, salmonella from peanut butter, and melamine poisoning from pet food and animal feed. An estimated 76 million Americans get sick and 5,000 die each year from food-borne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"There is need for consumer hysteria," said DeLauro, of Connecticut. "The public is just beginning to realize that they're at risk, their families are at risk."
The "breakdown" in the system can be attributed to lack of organization between agencies, insufficient resources, too much industry involvement and not enough science-based research, DeLauro said. Improving food safety won't necessarily require more money, just better use of funds, she said.
DeLauro has long advocated consolidating food-safety operations now shared among the USDA, FDA and 13 other federal departments into a single food agency. The proposal is supported by Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, and has "a good chance" of passing if the party wins the presidential election this year, DeLauro said.