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Legislation to Empower FDA and CDC to Collect On-Farm Samples for Investigation of Disease Outbreaks


The Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act has sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has been introduced into their respective Chambers. The proposed legislation is cosponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and has widespread support from public health advocacy groups.


The proposed Act would allow investigators from both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enter farms and plants to collect samples to determine the source of foodborne infections and study the epidemiology of diseases especially associated with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).


The need for legislation is motivated by repeated outbreaks of STEC infection associated with leafy greens.  Plants are irrigated with water that is frequently contaminated by runoff from feed lots.  The Act would overcome the need for permission to be obtained for investigators to acquire samples in the course of outbreak studies. 


Senator Booker stated, “Public health agencies like the FDA and CDC face limitations in their ability to fully investigate and understand the problem since they lack the authority to enter farms and conduct microbial sampling.  The animal industry has also impeded investigators from accessing farms during outbreaks which further hinders their efforts to identify the source of outbreaks and develop preventive measures.”


Predictably, the legislation is endorsed by a number of activist organizations including the Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, Food and Water Watch, the Natural Resources Defense Council and STOP Foodborne Illness.


The proposed legislation would have implications beyond investigation of any specific disease outbreak.  Applying whole genome sequencing to a pathogen isolated from both consumers and a feed lot will create opportunities for litigation.  The tort system would inevitably result in relocation of CAFOs that in many cases are in close proximity to fields used to grow leafy greens. Runoff with effluent to irrigation canals, presumably results in contamination of produce.  Since there is currently no absolute kill step for Salmonella, Listeria or E.coli responsible for extensive outbreaks of foodborne infection. The close proximity of CAFOs and irrigated fields creates a risk of contaminated leafy greens serving as a vehicle of infection. A similar situation may occur with Salmonella or Campylobacter infection acquired from consuming undercooked poultry. Breeder and growing farms and hatcheries for broilers and turkeys would be subject to warrantless entry by federal agencies performing microbiological sampling with unpredictable results creating to legal jeopardy.