As the U.S. Department of Agriculture began testing for six additional strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli beyond E. coli O157:H7 on Monday, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) praised the move and the American Meat Institute reaffirmed its opposition.
“The science is clear on the risk that these pathogens present to the health of American consumers and today’s implementation is a critical step forward for our food safety system,” DeLauro said in a statement Monday. “I am glad that, because of this expanded testing, Americans will finally be better protected from these deadly pathogens.”
DeLauro, a longtime advocate for stronger food safety regulations, is Ranking Member on the House Labor, Education, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
The American Meat Institute, on the other hand, again voiced opposition to the new policy on Friday. On the AMI’s new blog, Meat Case, executive vice president Jim Hodges questioned whether testing for non-O157 STEC would benefit public health.
“The industry is currently controlling the six additional STEC through existing food safety intervention strategies. That’s why AMI has registered the industry’s strong reservations about this new testing program’s ability to enhance food safety,” wrote Hodges. “We know that our view on this policy isn’t a popular one. The fact that we’ve continued to advocate our view should signal just how strongly we believe the policy will have little positive impact on food safety.”
“If we were simply interested in winning a PR battle, we would have praised this policy long ago,” he continued. “But we remain committed to the facts, which tell us this new policy simply won’t achieve the food progress that has been promised.”
Hodges detailed AMI’s position on the latest STEC science in an op-ed for Food Safety News in February.
According to AMI, meat companies have been preparing for implementation and many are conducting testing to show that current interventions also destroy the six strains, in addition to E. coli O157:H7.
As the USDA considered expanding E. coli testing to other strains, DeLauro urged the agency to classify these ‘big six’ non-O157 strains as adulterants. They were finally declared adulterants in September 2011.
The USDA first declared E coli O157:H7 an adulterant in 1994, following the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993 that sickened more than 600 people and killed four.
The six additional strains now considered adulterants are O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145.
Helena Bottemiller contributed to this report.© Food Safety News