Victims of foodborne illness gathered in the nation’s capital last week to speak to Senators about the need to move food safety legislation forward. Senate bill 510 (S510, the Food Safety Modernization Act) passed unanimously out of committee in November, but has yet to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
“We all know that Congress has been focused on health care and the economy,” said food safety attorney William Marler. “But with last week’s report that foodborne illness is costing the US $152 billion dollars annually, moving this legislation forward will address both of those issues, and make our country a safer place to live.”
The attorneys at Marler’s firm, Seattle-based Marler Clark, have represented victims of contaminated food since the landmark outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at Jack in the Box in 1993. As part of its food safety advocacy, the firm is active in connecting clients past and present with outlets to make their stories known. On March 4, more than a dozen clients were part of a daylong effort organized by the Make Our Food Safe coalition to convince Senators to bring S510 to a vote.
“I think it went really well,” said Peter Hurley, whose three-year-old son Jake Hurley fell ill to Salmonella during the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter outbreak. Hurley has taken an active roll in lobbying members of Congress to strengthen food safety laws. “We had some really good meetings with Senators and their staff. Everybody is on board with this.”
“Most of the Congressmen we spoke with were very receptive to our message,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, whose children were sickened by spinach in 2006. “Most of them did see the need for stricter food safety legislation. The frustrating part for us, though, was the general feeling that it was going to take some time to make this happen.”
Lauren Bush explained how the trip affected her: “Going to Washington to lobby for food safety altered my perception of what happened to me. When I contracted E. coli 0157: H7, I felt like a powerless victim whose entire life had been turned upside down by an invisible force that didn't have a face to confront. However, being involved with S.T.O.P. and going to D.C. changed that because I was able to sit in front of people who have the power to modify the laws that shape our country. It was incredibly powerful to discover that my voice matters.”