Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y), chairwoman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security, introduced the Safe Meat and Poultry Act Sept. 12 aimed to reduce the number of foodborne outbreaks and strengthen the country’s agriculture and food industry by updating the nation’s dated meat and poultry inspection and consumer notification system.
The Center for Disease Control estimates 128,000 people are hospitalized due to foodborne illnesses each year. The Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida estimates the annual public health and economic costs of foodborne illness in the US is estimated to be over 14 billion dollars annually for just the top 14 pathogens. In addition, each year the meat and poultry industry loses over 500 million dollars due to recalled products.
The high number of outbreaks and significant personal and financial toll that follows is, in large part, caused by the inability to upgrade the food safety legislation at the USDA since 1906, Gillibrand said. A statement from her noted that the Safe Meat and Poultry Act would decrease pathogens, protects whistleblowers that report public health issues, and improve customer notification process.
Specifically, this legislation would:
- Create mandatory pathogen reduction performance standards and expand the authority of the USDA to regulate new pathogens, which will make progress towards targeting and reducing dangerous pathogens in the meat and poultry supply.
- Improve consumer notification for recalls of contaminated products.
- Provide whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public health issues and support a more resilient agriculture industry.
- Provide better enforcement penalties, including criminal penalties for intentionally putting unsafe products in the marketplace, and escalating enforcement action for the few bad actors that have a repeated history of serious failures to ensure food safety.
- Safeguard our borders from unsafe or adulterated foreign meat and poultry products by ensuring regular international audits by the Food Safety & Inspection Service.
- Increase the emphasis on prevention throughout the entire food safety system, including for pathogens, chemical residues, and potential contamination.
- Improve consideration given to occupational health & safety to support a safe and sustainable environment in which wholesome products can be produced, inspected, and passed.