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DeLauro Condemns FDA Delay of Food Safety Rule Following Report on Romaine Lettuce Recalls

February 13, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC (February 13, 2019)  Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) today released the following statement after the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the findings of its investigation into last fall’s E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coast of California.

“For all the Agency’s bluster on improving traceability, the FDA has done little to advance real actions that would prevent food outbreaks in the first place,” said DeLauro. “The FDA’s investigations into last year’s romaine lettuce recalls have confirmed what we already knew to be true: dirty irrigation water contaminates produce and makes people sick. The fact that people are dying and lives are being destroyed while the FDA caves to big corporate interests is unconscionable. FDA must take its own findings to heart and implement science-based standards to test irrigation water. Eight years after the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law, it is long past time these important rules went into effect—not delayed into the next decade. Enough is enough.”

Investigators positively identified the outbreak strain in the sediment of an irrigation reservoir on the implicated farm. These findings build upon FDA’s Environmental Assessment into last year’s E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce produced in the Yuma growing region. That investigation also positively identified the outbreak strain in contaminated irrigation water, which was found in three separate locations along an irrigation canal used by multiple farms. Together, both outbreaks resulted in 272 illnesses, 121 hospitalizations, and 5 deaths.

Despite scientific evidence that contaminated agricultural irrigation water poses serious risks to produce safety, the FDA is continuing its proposal to delay implementation of the Produce Safety Rule’s testing requirements of agricultural water under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The original compliance date was set for 2018. However, under this policy FDA will not begin any enforcement of these rules until at least 2022. 

DeLauro is Chair of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus and a senior Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding and oversight of the FDA.