Lawmaker Seeks Compensation for Tomato Growers Hit by Salmonella Scare

Legislation to compensate tomato growers for the losses they sustained because of this summer’s <"">Salmonella scare has been introduced in the US Congress.   The bill, introduced by Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-FL), would give the nation’s tomato growers and shippers $100 million to compensate for losses they incurred in the outbreak.

In June, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers to avoid certain types of tomatoes, after blaming the produce for a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1200 people in the US and Canada since April.  But long after the suspect tomatoes were removed from the market, people continued to get sick.   What’s more, the FDA was unable to identify the Salmonella strain responsible for the outbreak on any of the tomato samples it tested.  Despite the evidence that tomatoes were no longer causing the outbreak, the FDA only declared them safe last week.

Earlier this month, the FDA expanded its Salmonella probe to include other produce, and on Monday, the FDA announced it had found the outbreak strain on a Mexican-grown jalapeno pepper.  Now the FDA has warned consumers to avoid jalapenos, but it is also continuing to look for other suspects.  The agency also maintains that tomatoes might have been responsible for the Salmonella outbreaks earlier stages.

Tomato growers have been increasingly vocal about their anger and frustration in regards to the Salmonella probe, and are of the opinion that the FDA should have declared tomatoes safe sooner.   Florida growers alone are estimated to have lost $100,000 million.

Rep. Mahoney’s bill is designed to reimburse growers and shippers who have sustained the biggest losses.  The Agriculture Department would decide who qualifies for compensation, much like the way disaster assistance is carried out.

In this particular case, there is no smoking gun,” Rep. Mahoney told The Wall Street Journal. “What we have is losses.” He said he wasn’t “blaming the FDA for the choices they make, but there are consequences to those choices.”

Not everyone is in favor of reimbursing the tomato industry, especially consumer advocacy groups.   Sarah Klein, a staff attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Wall Street Journal that the food industry has successful lobbying efforts have weakened food safety regulations and oversight over the past few years, and taxpayers should not have to foot the bill now.

Odds are long that the bill will actually pass.  Last year, spinach growers were not able to convince Congress to pass pushed a similar measure to compensate for losses after the government’s 2006 recall of fresh spinach after an outbreak of E. coli.

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