Woman lobbies for safe food

Source of Article:  http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090430/NEWS0107/904300388/1001/NEWS01&nav_category=NEWS01

 

Bend mother goes to nation’s capitol to urge lawmakers for better oversight

 

By Keith Chu / The Bulletin

 

Published: April 30. 2009 4:00AM PST

WASHINGTON — Her day job is running a Bend children’s store, but Chrissy Christoferson played a lobbyist on Wednesday, when she stumped for beefed-up food safety laws on Capitol Hill.

Christoferson joined the food safety debate after her son, Beck, contracted salmonella in 2007 from a tainted batch of Veggie Booty, a health food snack made from rice, corn and other vegetables. He was 10 months old.

“You think you’re buying your child a healthy, wholesome snack,” Christoferson said.

On Wednesday, Christoferson, of Bend, and about a dozen other relatives of people who died or were sickened by contaminated food stumped for tighter regulations on food producers in the U.S. and food imported from abroad. The campaign, which is supported by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, comes in the wake of a nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated peanuts and an FDA warning this month that raw alfalfa sprouts could carry salmonella.

When Beck first complained of an upset stomach, Christoferson thought he had the flu.

But when his symptoms got worse, including a fever and bloody diarrhea, Christoferson decided it was time to take Beck to the doctor.

After tests, the doctor determined it was salmonella poisoning.

“Diaper changing was excruciating for us for about a week,” she said.

But it took several weeks after that for state health officials to track the strain of salmonella to the Veggie Booty.

“I spent hours and hours reading labels in my pantry (and) talking on the phone,” Christoferson said.

Beck, now nearly 3 years old, shows no ill effects from the salmonella, Christoferson said.

But some children do suffer lasting damage from food-borne illnesses.

“Every time he’s got a stomachache, I’ve got to wonder,” she said.

Christoferson contacted food safety groups to make Beck available for any studies about the long-term effects of childhood salmonella exposure. But instead, they asked her if she wanted to tell her story to lawmakers.

“My initial thought was they would call me in 10 years, and he’d be part of a long-term study,” she said.

She was shocked when she learned about the U.S. food safety system. Perhaps most upsetting to her is the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the power to force recalls of tainted food.

“That just floored me when I found that out,” Christoferson said. “That’s amazing to me.”

On Wednesday, she appeared at a news conference with Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., promoting DeLauro’s bill to overhaul U.S. food safety regulations, including creating a new agency to oversee food safety.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, drew attention in February for grilling the CEO of a firm responsible for releasing salmonella-contaminated peanuts that were traced to hundreds of illnesses. In an interview on Wednesday, Walden said food safety rules need to be strengthened, but he thinks the DeLauro bill may be too onerous to implement.

Walden has signed on to a similar, but more conservative, bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Adam Putnam, R-Fla. That bill also would give the FDA power to enforce mandatory recalls of tainted food and allow inspectors to demand testing records.

“It probably represents a more practical approach,” Walden said.

But he agrees that now is the time to push reforms.

“The timing is pretty good to come up with a better system,” he said.

Christoferson said she can sympathize with the harm that poorly written rules can do to businesses. Her Bend store, Stone Soup, was doing big business reselling children’s toys and clothing before the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act went into effect this year. The law created tough new rules requiring testing for lead in products for kids, she said.

But Christoferson said food is different than clothes.

“You don’t have a choice about eating,” she said.

 

 

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