– Citing the
salmonella-related deaths of three Minnesotans,
Amy Klobuchar is urging President Barack Obama to
appoint a new commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as
soon as possible and begin the process of reforming the federal
government’s food safety system.
She is also praising the key role of the Minnesota Department of Health in
tracing the salmonella outbreak to peanut butter from a processing plant in
In a letter to the president, Klobuchar wrote:
“The first responsibility of a government is to protect its citizens.
Ensuring that Americans have safe food is a basic issue of public safety,
health and consumer protection. Whenever contaminated food is allowed
to reach consumers, public trust in the integrity of our food supply and
the effectiveness of our government is undermined.”
The peanut butter salmonella outbreak has been linked to eight deaths,
including three nursing home residents in Minnesota. It has also sickened
more than 500 people in at least 43 states, including numerous
children. The peanut butter recall, involving hundreds of different
products, could be among the largest in U.S. history.
A former prosecutor, Klobuchar said she supports
a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into what may
have taken place at the peanut processing plant. But she said more
needs to be done to strengthen the federal government’s food safety system.
“The FDA needs a strong, independent leader who will put the agency’s food
safety responsibilities front and center,” said Klobuchar.
“One of the new commissioner’s first tasks should be to order a thorough
investigation of how this salmonella contamination could have been
prevented, so it does not happen again.”
On Jan. 20, Andrew von Eschenbach stepped down as
the FDA Commissioner. Frank Torti, the
agency's chief scientist, serves as the FDA’s Acting Commissioner.
Klobuchar noted that the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) has identified oversight of food safety as one
of the top 10 “high-risk” areas that should command the urgent attention
and action of the federal government. The GAO has criticized the
fragmentary and ineffective nature of the federal food safety system.
Klobuchar told President Obama that she stands
“ready to work with your administration and help lead the way in reforming
our federal food safety system so American consumers can remain confident
about the U.S.
In her letter, Klobuchar also highlighted the key
role of the Minnesota Department of Health, whose professionals were the
first in the nation to trace the salmonella outbreak to peanut butter
originating at the processing plant in Georgia. Last year, the
agency was also the first to trace another nationwide salmonella outbreak
to contaminated jalapeno and Serrano peppers from Mexico.
Klobuchar recommended the state agency’s work as
a national model.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne
diseases cause about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and
5,000 deaths in the United
States each year. For every
food-borne illness case that is reported, as many as 40 more illnesses are
not reported or confirmed by a lab.
The annual costs of medical care, lost productivity and
premature deaths due to food-borne illnesses is estimated to be $44
A national survey by Consumers Union in October 2008 found that only 54
percent of Americans feel the government is doing all it can to ensure food
safety, and 83 percent were concerned about harmful bacteria or chemicals