FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 13, 2009
Contact: HHS Press Office
Secretary Sebelius Statement on Food Safety Working Group Listening Session
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today attended and delivered opening remarks at the White House Food Safety Working Group Listening Session. The listening session included stakeholders representing a diverse range of organizations. Sebelius' remarks as prepared for delivery are included below:
“Let me begin today by acknowledging my friend and colleague Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack. Food safety has been a top priority for both HHS and USDA, and the two agencies are working intensely and cooperatively on this critical issue. This spirit of cooperation is essential to the success of our nation's food safety system. With the leadership and commitment by our President and so many members of Congress, and this renewed partnership across HHS, USDA and our sister federal agencies, I know that this is the time when we will finally make real progress and strengthen our nation's food safety system.
“And we will do so by putting public health and the safety of the American people first.
“Each year in the United States an estimated 5,000 people die and tens of millions fall ill from consuming contaminated food. Recently, we've seen a series of large recalls -- spinach, peanut products, pistachios, pepper, mushrooms, and alfalfa sprouts. These recalls have serious implications for public health. They raise real questions about the ability of our federal agencies to monitor our food safety systems, and the food industry's ability to provide safe foods to our homes and restaurants.
“We know that change begins with one word: prevention. Today's food safety system responds to crises. We need a system that prevents contamination in the first place. Building this system is a responsibility we all share.
“A new system will depend upon good data. It must engage industry at every level and it must provide for high-quality inspections and effective enforcement by public agencies. When outbreaks do occur, we must all respond quickly, both to protect public health and to speed the recovery of affected industries.
“We have already made good use of new tools to protect and inform the public. When peanut products were recalled, we produced a widget that was placed on more than 20,000 external Web sites and resulted in 9.6 million page views. And as we saw during the H1N1 flu outbreak, communication is critical during any kind of crisis and we will use every tool possible to get the word out.
“As we invest in a new food safety system, we must use our resources wisely. Accountability is a key principle for reform and we must make the most of the President's historic investment in food safety.
“As Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, I have the honor and the responsibility of leading two agencies -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- which have critical and complementary roles to play in food safety. The CDC conducts ongoing surveillance to detect outbreaks of foodborne illness, and investigates outbreaks to identify the pathogens and contaminated food product. The FDA has the task of determining the source of the contaminated food causing outbreaks of disease, and working to prevent these contaminating foods from reaching our kitchen tables. The FDA also inspects facilities and regulates their practices.
“Working with USDA and other agencies in the Food Safety Working Group CDC and FDA will play critical roles in a new prevention-oriented food safety system. With substantial new resources in the President's budget, CDC will further develop its national surveillance system and respond to food-borne outbreaks more quickly. The President's budget also includes a historic $1 billion for food safety activities at FDA. With these resources, FDA will be able to develop an integrated food safety system with states and localities, develop standards for prevention, and increase inspections.
“To succeed, we need your help. HHS and our agencies need to understand your on-the-ground perspectives on what will work. Your insight is critically important to shaping our 21st century food safety system, and I look forward to hearing your input.”
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Last revised: May 7, 2011