June 4th, 2010 5:33 pm | by Jacob Reingold News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Killer Foods: Merkley and Salmonella Victims Talk Food Safety


Parents of children affected by salmonella told Oregon health officials and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) some horrific tales today of what's happened to their kids from foodborne illness.

The discussion this morning at the State Office Building came against a backdrop of pending food safety modernization bills in Congress. The Food and Drug Administration is also considering tightening its own standards. Merkley has written a section of the Food Safety Modernization Act that would subject packaged foods, instead of just produce, to more rigorous safety standards.

Merkley acknowledges the backlash this bill may produce from small farmers who cannot afford record keepers and auditors, and wants to exempt farms that do not supply supermarkets from the new rules.

A peanut butter cracker from Georgia poisoned Portland resident Peter Hurley's 4-year-old son Jacob, who spent 11 days in the hospital with salmonella. Hurley says he wants large food corporations to “stop killing our kids” and urges better tracing of foodborne illnesses to their source.

“When an outbreak occurs," Hurley said, "we need to be able to quickly find out where it came from so other people don't get sick.”

A Bend couple, Stephen and Sarah Valenzuela, also spoke about their 5-year old son Jet. He suffered a severe case of salmonella two years ago.

“It's heartbreaking for a kid. He had renal failure, he was in the ICU,” said Sarah Valenzuela, “it affected him with other kids. He had a colostomy bag and he couldn't wear pants, we had to buy him overalls.”

At the meeting, the victims' parents and Merkley agreed that large food conglomerates need more government oversight.

“I think that large food companies are sometimes very responsible but they're sometimes they're not,” Merkley told WW. “So I'm hoping they will get on board and say this is good for the industry because we know this is a problem. There are outbreaks every single year.”

When asked how the new Senate bill would affect small farms, Merkley said, “I'll be advocating for the fees to be proportional to the size of production so the small farmers have a very light touch.”

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