Menendez, Lautenberg Urge Quick FDA Action To Protect New Jersey Spinach Farmers

Menendez, Lautenberg Urge Quick FDA Action To Protect New Jersey Spinach Farmers

Senators call on administration to clear Garden States $6.2 million industry

Washington - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move rapidly in identifying where spinach tainted with dangerous strains of E. coli bacteria was being grown, and to issue a new advisory as soon as possible to reassure the public that New Jersey spinach is safe. The FDA advisory issued last week upon reports of sickness and death from contaminated spinach applies to all bagged spinach in the country, yet to date no outbreaks have been reported in the Garden State, nor is there evidence that any of the infected spinach was grown locally.

As the nations fourth-largest spinach producer, spinach farming is a multi-million dollar industry for the Garden State, Menendez said. That is why we are imploring the FDA to move quickly in identifying the source of the infected spinach. Each day this advisory stands is another day that New Jersey spinach farmers, and the Garden State economy, suffer losses.

Protecting public health is paramount, said Lautenberg. But if FDA knows New Jerseys spinach crops are safe, then the public should be informed to prevent any unnecessary harm to our states farmers.

New Jersey is the fourth-largest spinach-producing state in the country, and the lawmakers fear the FDAs broad advisory may harm the $6.2 million industry.

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The full text of the letter to Dr. von Eschenbach follows:

The Honorable Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D.
Acting Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, Maryland 20857

Dear Dr. von Eschenbach,
We are writing to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move expeditiously in geographically clarifying the advisory on spinach tainted with E. coli O157:H7. We commend the FDA for responding quickly and decisively to this tragic outbreak in the interest of the public's health, but we are concerned for the well-being of New Jerseys spinach farmers, who are facing significant economic harm from the advisory.

According to the latest USDA data, New Jersey is the fourth-largest spinach-producing state in the nation, with a harvest of nearly $6.2 million in 2005. New Jersey has never had an outbreak of E. coli in spinach, and to our knowledge, there is no indication that any of the contaminated spinach in the current outbreak is New Jersey-grown. The fact that no E. coli O157:H57 related illnesses have been reported in New Jersey also seems to indicate that New Jersey spinach is clean. We would like the FDA to identify the geographic source of the contamination as quickly as possible, and to modify the advisory immediately thereafter to inform consumers if spinach grown in New Jersey is safe to eat.

New Jersey farmers already face a number of significant challenges staying in business, and they should not be unduly harmed due to circumstances beyond their control. It is our hope that New Jerseys spinach will be cleared in the immediate future and a new advisory will be issued to reflect that and to restore public confidence in New Jersey produce.

Thank you for your work on this important issue.

Sincerely,

ROBERT MENENDEZ
FRANK R. LAUTENBERG
U.S. Senators

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