Legislation gives USDA more power on meat recalls

Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act would give more authority to USDA on recalls for meat, poultry or egg products.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D., Ct.) and Louise M. Slaughter (D., N.Y.) introduced legislation that would strengthen the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep Americans safe from contaminated meat, poultry and eggs.

Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated” – a term the duo say is “ambiguously defined in current law.” Because of that ambiguity, USDA claims they do not have the authority to issue recalls for meat, poultry or egg products.

The Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act would require USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics for human medicine.

“The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion,” said DeLauro and Slaughter in a statement.

Over the past year, an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg traced back to chicken produced by Foster Farms has sickened at least 601 Americans, hospitalizing around 40% of those infected. Despite the length and severity of the outbreak, none of the company’s products have been recalled by the USDA because of the legal ambiguity. In the wake of the outbreak, DeLauro and Slaughter met with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), where they were told FSIS does not believe they have the authority to declare Salmonella an adulterant.

“This is an important piece of legislation that strengthens the Federal Meat Inspection, Egg Products Inspection, and Poultry Products Inspection Acts. There have been ill-conceived proposals to deregulate inspection at USDA while at the same time there has been no effort to give USDA inspectors the necessary regulatory tools to prevent contaminated products from reaching our dinner tables. This bill finally brings our inspection laws into 21st Century,” said Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch.

“When E. coli O157:H7 sickened hundreds of consumers in the 1990s, USDA decided that we cannot tolerate E. coli in ground beef. Yet we are still allowing Salmonella in chicken, even after an outbreak that has sickened over 600 people,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “This legislation would change that and provide USDA with clear authority to protect consumers from contaminated food.”

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