Food-safety advocates are praising the U.S. Department of Agriculture for releasing its Salmonella Action Plan while also criticizing it for not going far enough in reducing the estimated 1.3 million illnesses caused by the pathogen each year.
Much of the concern over the plan regards the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” proposal, which the plan names as a top priority.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said that the plan doesn’t make the proposed system – which speeds up processing lines and reduces the number of FSIS inspectors in plants – “any more logical or protective of public health. It is still a deregulation of the poultry industry that will put consumers, workers, and even animal welfare at risk.”
Hauter questioned the agency’s Salmonella reduction statistics and suggested that, rather than moving forward with the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the “Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce.”
The Center for Progressive Reform also viewed the plan’s emphasis on HIMP as a mistake. CPR President Rena Steinzor said it’s simply an attempt to re-market the rule.
“To justify moving forward with their proposal, debunked twice by GAO, they rely on data the FSIS itself considers faulty,” Steinzor said.
She added that the “toothless” plan also failed to address issues with plants knowing when they’re about to be tested and the use of increasingly strong anti-microbial chemicals that potentially mask contamination.
“While USDA’s initiative in issuing this plan is to be applauded, the substance falls short in addressing this important public health issue,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said in a statement issued jointly with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
DeLauro questioned whether expanding the proposed poultry slaughter program is a good idea after a Government Accountability Office report released in September referenced major flaws in the program.
“Meat is continuing to leave these processing facilities contaminated with Salmonella,” DeLauro said. “We should be fixing the source of the problem, not leaving it up to consumers to guess whether their dinner will send them to the hospital.”
“I appreciate that USDA is paying more attention to the issue of Salmonella,” Slaughter said. “However, the root of the problem with resistant superbacteria is the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture creating that resistance.”
Like Slaughter, Sarah Klein, a senior food safety attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is especially concerned about antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. The new plan “completely ignores” the issue, she said.
“It is shocking for the agency to have stayed on the sidelines of this public health crisis, particularly in the two-and-a-half years since CSPI petitioned the agency to declare certain strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella to be adulterants,” Klein said.
Klein did note the “moving window” plan as an important improvement, but still called on FSIS to test every poultry and beef slaughter plant every week for Salmonella, which she said would be “critically important for the agency’s controversial plan for revamping poultry inspection.”© Food Safety News