Roger Bernard, Farm Journal Policy & Washington Editor
There was a little something for everyone at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the salmonella egg contamination, except not a lot of new ground was covered.
The father-son team of Jack and Peter DeCoster were the focus of much of the attention, in part because the owner of Hillandale Farms (Orland Bethel) opted to take the fifth and not answer lawmaker questions at the hearing. But DeCosters expressed remorse and regret at the salmonella contamination that sickened 1,500 nationwide.
And there was of course an element of theater, too. The session was interrupted by protesters who were escorted from the room after proclaiming that "all eggs kill."
Plus, the panel's hearing opened with testimony from two consumers who were sickened by eating products that were tained with salmonella from the eggs in question. Then the attention turned to the farm owners, or at least the DeCoster's.
And in their written testimony, DeCosters did express regret for the situation and in comments they did express regret over the situation. Peter DeCoster said, "Absolutely. I mean this is an issue I feel terrible has occurred." "I feel very bad about it, very bad," added Jack DeCoster. "It's a horrible thing."
As for how the contamination occurred, DeCosters insisted they believe a a feed supplement (meat and bone meal) purchased from an outside supplier as the source of the contamination. Their testimony also highlighed efforts they have undertaken to prevent salmonella contamination again at their operations.
But that view wasn't shared by FDA deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein. "The FDA has not reached that conclusion at all," he said, noting the feed ingredient is just one of the ways the contamination could have happened.
The hearing also served to bring attention to food safety legislation that is being pushed forward in the Senate, but is currently being blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He has raised an objection to the bill being brought up under unanimous consent on the grounds of the cost of the bill.
His objection seems unlikely to be removed before lawmakers remove themselves from Washington to hit the campaign trail. But delays in the Senate compared to the House are not unusual. Recall that the House passed their version of food safety legislation in 2009 and the Senate has only now reached the point of considering similar legislation.
So while this hearing had many of the elements that often are found in congressional sessions like this, it still hasn't been enough to get Congress to move forward on improving the nation's food inspection system