WASHINGTON – If we can go to war against Iraq because of 9/11,then we can go to war against foodborne illness – at least,that is how Rep. Rosa DeLauro D-Conn. sees it.
Three thousand people died on 9/11 with no way to prevent it,DeLauro said in a conference call Tuesday.
However she said,5,000 people die annually from something completely preventable: foodborne illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,76 million cases of foodborne illness occur annually. Of those,325,000 result in hospitalizations,and 5,000 end in deaths.
Foodborne illnesses are caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food,according to the World Health Organization.
A report released Wednesday for the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University by Robert L. Scharff said the economic cost of foodborne illness in the U.S. is $152 billion,with $39 billion of that attributed to produce.
“This suggests that foodborne illness continues to be a significant problem in the United States,” the report said.
The report focuses on the economic analysis of foodborne illness to help set priorities for which foodborne illness problems to tackle first,the report said.
The cost is higher than in other,earlier studies because past reports focused only on a few or the most common pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses,Scharff said during the conference call.
Scharff said his report included all pathogens and calculated the cost of pain and suffering.
Even without pain and suffering losses,the report estimates the cost to society at $103 billion.
Almost a year ago,President Barack Obama dedicated his weekly radio address to food safety,making note of foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years and how outdated laws were obstacles in preventing them,said Sandra Eskin during the conference call.
Eskin is the director of the Food Safety Project for the Pew Health Group at Pew Charitable Trusts. However,not much has been done since the address,she said.
The House passed a new Food and Drug Administration law in July,but the Senate has yet to bring a bill to the floor for a vote,Eskin said.
With the release of the Produce Safety Project report and a new Web-based interactive map with MakeOurFoodSafe.org,Eskin said she hopes the new information will “spur the Senate to act and both houses of Congress to pass a strong food safety bill and place it on the president's desk this spring.”
DeLauro said she hopes the numbers in the study compel the Senate to act so American families no longer have a reason to be afraid to consume products such as leafy greens or peanut butter.
Produce – fresh,canned or processed – contributes to a quarter of foodborne illnesses,the report said.
DeLauro discussed her proposal to split the FDA into two agencies: one focused on food safety and the other dedicated to regulating drugs and tobacco.
Without competing priorities,DeLauro said she believes the agencies would be able to protect families and drive down the costs outlined in Scharff's report.
“This is serious,” DeLauro said. “We need to remember that this represents real sickness and pain and even death for American families. We're talking about peoples' lives.”