Saturday, May 9, 2009

My day as a Lobbyist

I went to Washington DC last week to lobby for food safety and FDA Reform. I went as part of a coalition of several food safety groups, lobbying for HB875, or the Food Safety Modernization Act, as it has come to be called. In a nutshell, here a the key points:

• Mandatory recall power for the FDA – did you know they don’t have this now?
• Annual inspections of food manufacturers
• Mandatory reporting of positive test results for things like salmonella and E-coli (right now a company can test and get a positive result, throw those results away and keep testing till they get a negative test – then put it ALL on the shelves! All without telling anyone!!!))
• Adoption of science based standards for food manufacturing

There are a few other elements, but those are the ones that tipped the scales for me. I have been asked by friends and family why I went to DC. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The CPSIA which was passed by Congress last fall says that I cannot sell a vinyl raincoat to a 12 year old because he might get lead poisoning if he eats it. However, Congress did not create a way to keep E-coli out of strawberries grown in Mexico, relabeled once across the border as “US GROWN” so they could qualify to be sold into school lunches, where Lindsey ate them and now has life-long kidney problems, is diabetic and will need a kidney transplant eventually. They did not find a way to keep spinach with e-coli off the shelves last year where it was then sold and fed to 2 year old Kyle who died within 4 days of eating it. There was no protection for the people who ate peanuts over the past year that were being processed and packaged in a rat and mice infested factory, 9 of whom have died so far.

This is why I went to DC. Congress needs to get up and change things in the FDA. They acted more swiftly than most have seen in their lifetime when it came to lead in kids clothes….why not food? Isn’t food a more basic need? Going out on a limb here, but I feel 99.9% certain that I can keep a vinyl raincoat out of my 7 & 2 year olds mouth. Exactly how do I keep them from eating strawberries, spinach, orange juice, veggie booty, etc? And why would I want them to avoid those things? Am I supposed to live in fear that they might get sick if I don’t cook everything they eat in scalding water to hopefully kill any e-coli? And isn’t raw spinach better for you vitamin-wise? What’s a mom to do?

On my first day there, I sat with my fellow “lobbyists”, a room full of victims. I have never owned the word “victim” – I just can’t. It’ not that I don’t understand the word, I just don’t accept it. I tend more towards the “get over it” side of camp, but as I sat in this room of people who had traveled from all over the country to rally together for a cause, I found that the word “victim” was oddly applicable here. None of us chose this. Especially not the couple from Idaho whose son Kyle is gone. He died at the same age that my son Beck is now.

Capital Hill is overwhelming if you are there to participate. How does anything actually get done up there and how do those people know who their constituents actually are and what they want? How could they possibly?

I am not sure about the answer to those questions, but after spending a full day up there with a professional lobbyist as my “sherpa and guide”, I at least have a better understanding of how it all works. I went from meeting to meeting, telling the story of Beck and how he got sick. I told my Congressman that I just didn’t think it was right that I should have to wonder if what I am bringing home from the grocery store will actually make him sick, not provide for his nutrition and growth. I met with 4 of our leaders and their staff – in meetings that ranged from welcoming and understanding to dismissive and rude. Quite an experience to say the least.

Throughout my day the School House Rock – “I’m Just a Bill” ran though my head. To see it in action was educational. And maybe a little disheartening – I just don’t know how those guys muddle through the issues presented to them and come up with the ones that truly have depth and substance and are really important. I do not envy them that job and I did leave the Hill that day with a deeper respect for the job of our representatives.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I can’t go through life without knowing I haven’t done everything I can to ensure that my kids grow up healthy and happy and this particular issue falls into that category. I hope someday they can know and appreciate the work being done on their behalf.

No comments: