DeLauro looks to expand CAFO oversight

Bill grants FDA new authority to investigate livestock and concentrated animal facilities with foodborne illness outbreaks.

December 16, 2019

4 Min Read
DeLauro looks to expand CAFO oversight

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) introduced the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019, which would grant new authority to the Food & Drug Administration to investigate large livestock feedlots and confinement operations implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks.

In a statement, DeLauro noted that just last year, evidence in the Yuma, Ariz., romaine lettuce foodborne illness outbreak — which killed five people and hospitalized 96 people — led investigators to a large cattle feedlot previously owned by JBS. Because FDA does not have authority to conduct microbial testing on farms, FDA’s environmental assessment report acknowledged “limited sampling” at the feedlot and was ultimately unable to draw “statistically valid conclusions” in the traceback investigation.

DeLauro said, “The negative consequences of corporate feedlots and confinements are clear — from overuse of antibiotics resulting in dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria to increased contamination of food. Under current law, multinational corporations have the power to stop an FDA foodborne illness investigation in its tracks. That is alarming, and it is why the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act gives the FDA the authority to investigate corporate agribusinesses and uphold its mission to protect public health.”

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“Food safety regulators work hard to ensure that when we sink our teeth into a delicious cheeseburger or pork chop, we aren’t putting ourselves at risk of infection or death,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Cal.) said. “That’s why I’m proud to support the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act, which will give investigators at the Food & Drug Administration reasonable access to farms to collect information needed to stay ahead of evolving risks of bacteria. This kind of on-the-ground investigation is all the more important given the recent evolution of frightful antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ that are many times more harmful than normal bacteria.”

The legislation, also introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), is supported by a broad coalition of consumer and food groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Food & Water Watch, Consumer Reports, the Food Animal Concerns Trust and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“This bill gives federal investigators a critical new tool to trace germs that spread from large concentrated animal feeding operations back to the source,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Understanding more about how these disease-causing organisms enter the food system is the key to preventing repeated outbreaks of foodborne illness.”

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Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America, said, “By giving food safety regulators the authority they need to protect consumers, this bill helps to put public health ahead of industry profits. Transparency and accountability are the foundation of a safe food supply, and investigators should be able to take samples to determine whether the bacteria that caused a foodborne illness outbreak originated in a nearby animal feeding operation.”

"The proximity of concentrated animal feeding operations to farms that are growing fruits and vegetables is a legitimate area of regulation because of the potential of contamination. There have been food borne illness outbreaks where the location of a [concentrated animal feeding operation] was the subject of investigation by FDA, yet the agency was thwarted. This bill would correct that glaring hole in the FDA regulatory tool box," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

"This bill would give the FDA a critical tool it needs to protect public health," Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer Reports, said. "Right now, food safety officials simply cannot get to the bottom of many outbreaks without changes to federal law. That's why all members of Congress should support the Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act."

Steve Roach, food safety program director, Food Animal Concerns Trust, added, “The Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019 gives FDA a clearly needed tool for fighting foodborne illness. In addition to allowing FDA to more quickly find the source of an outbreak, this bill will be useful for determining what went wrong and help farms identify ways to stop future outbreaks. [Food Animal Concerns Trust] is happy to support the bill.”

DeLauro serves as vice chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, which is has jurisdiction over FDA.

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