September 17, 1997 - Food Safety Initiative

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) represents over 42,000 scientists. Our members include academic, industrial, clinical, and government scientists, many of whom are actively involved in detecting, diagnosing and preventing foodborne disease. We are writing to you on behalf of the fiscal year 1998 (FY1998) funding for the President's Food Safety Initiative specifically included in the Agriculture Appropriations bill.

Earlier this year, the President announced a multi-agency food safety initiative to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness in the U.S. The President proposed funding the initiative at a level of $43 million in FY 1998. Of the $43 million, approximately $9.2 million would be funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate have provided only half the funds requested for the USDA portion of the initiative.

Under the President's initiative, the Agricultural Research Service would receive $4.1 million to conduct research to develop new technologies for the detection and control of pathogens at the producer level and develop ways to control pathogens at the post-harvest level. The House and the Senate have proposed funding the ARS research at lower levels of $2.0 million and $4.0 million respectively. In addition, both the House and Senate have failed to provide funding for a new competitive research program totaling $2.0 million to conduct research on pre-harvest and post-harvest slaughter issues related to biological factors including pathogen detection and control and physical factors at the production and processing stages.

One of the last lines of defense in preventing foodborne illness is educating the consumer about food safety and proper cooking and handling practices. Under the initiative, $2 million would be utilized to expand existing food safety extension programs. Both the House and Senate have failed to appropriate funds for this important extension activity.

It is estimated that as many as 9,000 people in the United States die annually from foodborne disease and 6.5 to 33 million illnesses in the United States each year are related to food. Foodborne illnesses involving fresh fruit and Cyclospora and ground beef and E. coli O157:H7 continue to occur. As a conferee to the Agriculture Appropriations bill for FY1998, the ASM strongly urges you to fully fund all portions of the food safety initiative contained in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. Funding the initiative in FY 1998 at the requested levels will help to bring about measurable decreases in foodborne diseases.