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Editorial: Food safety is broken in U.S.

The recent recall of over 550 million eggs is just the latest in a string of food recalls that make it abundantly clear much more needs to be done to protect food safety.

It's unfortunate that legislation to help fix the problem has been languishing in a House Agriculture subcommittee since April 23, 2009.

The bill establishes in the Department of Health and Human Services the Food Safety Administration, and transfers all food safety responsibilities from other federal agencies.

The bill establishes a national food safety program, including an inspection system and strengthened foodborne illness surveillance system.

It requires imported food to meet the same standards as U.S. food; and establishes a national traceability system for food, among a number of other safety improvements.

It's unfortunate that Internet misinformation has circulated about the bill to the extent that the Web fact-checker has had to set the record straight:

The bill will not outlaw home gardens or affect farmers markets or organic farming, and it's not a conspiracy by corporate food interests.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has been a strong advocate for food safety and is a lead sponsor of the bill, which would strengthen the FDA to ensure a safe food supply and help prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place.

The legislation is opposed by farm interests and others, but has received support from numerous food industries in Minnesota as well as the Consumer Federation of America, the American Feed Industry Association, the American Spice Trade Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Food Marketing Institute, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

"The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens," Klobuchar said. "This massive recall is just another example of the broken system that continues to allow contaminated food to make it to our store shelves.  We must act quickly to strengthen our food safety system and protect the public from future harm."

Reports indicate that salmonella-infected eggs may have caused as many as 1,300 cases of intestinal illness.  On Aug. 13, 380 million eggs were recalled from Wright County Egg and last Friday Hillandale Farms recalled more than 170 million eggs.

The Centers for Disease Control has credited Minnesota public health officials with playing a significant role in tracing the source of the salmonella outbreak to Wright County Egg. The Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota have earned a national reputation for tracking foodborne illnesses.

The bill strengthens federal, state, and local officials' ability to investigate outbreaks using the procedures of the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the University of Minnesota as national models for improved food safety surveillance.

It's way past time for food safety improvements in the U.S.