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Australia, New Zealand Raise Concerns Over ‘Big Six’

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, major beef exporters, expressed written concern last week to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service over their new non-O157 E. coli policy, according to the North American Meat Processors Association newsletter.

Echoing the arguments of the American Meat Institute, both Australia and New Zealand questioned whether the so-called “Big Six” serotypes of E. coli — O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 — are a threat to public health.  The new FSIS policy, to take effect March 5, 2012, makes all of these serotypes adulterants, or illegal contaminates in raw non-intact beef — including ground beef, beef trim and tenderized steaks.

Australia’s comment argues that serotypes other than E. coli O157:H7 are not considered a major public health concern within Australia, and points out that most non-O157 STEC infections are attributed to non-beef food sources.

In the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the six strains addressed under the new regulation cause approximately 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations annually — beef is estimated to responsible for 36,700 of those cases.

“Australia therefore questions whether testing for these serotypes is scientifically justified, particularly as baseline studies have not been completed in the U.S,” according to NAMP’s report. “Australia believes that an implementation date cannot be established until the test methods are finalized, are tested under field conditions, proven to be reliable and are generally available.”

Both countries ask that FSIS consider postponing the planned implementation date and to allow more time to finalize test methods. New Zealand stated it does not consider sufficient scientific evidence has been supplied to justify the necessity of the proposed new measure, according to the report.

According to NAMP, Canada is also preparing comments to submit to FSIS and plans to do so before the extended Dec. 21 deadline. NAMP has also expressed concern about the new policy, especially over worry about the impact on small and very small plants.

The publicly submitted comments are available online and those interested in commenting can do so until Dec. 21: http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=10;po=0;s=FSIS-2010-0023

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