The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention has posted a petition on pressing the government to move forward with a ban on six disease-causing strains of E. coli bacteria in meat.

”  .. . while we have watched Europe suffer from a deadly E. coli outbreak that has sickened thousands and left over 30 dead, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget continues to sit on a United States Department of Agriculture proposal to declare these dangerous strains of E. coli as ‘adulterants’ in food,”  the food-safety advocacy group wrote Tuesday.

“The time to act is now, NOT after a similar monster E. coli outbreak strikes our citizens,” CFI said in asking for signatures on the online petition.

By labeling six disease-causing E. coli serotypes — O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145 — as adulterants, food contaminated with those pathogens could not be sold and contaminated products would have to be recalled. That’s the situation now only for E. coli O157:H7. The proposed ban does not include O104:H4, the virulent bug causing the massive outbreak in Germany. A recent editorial in the New York Times said the proposal should be expanded to include that strain as well.

CFI said the Office of Management and Budget thinks the non-O157 strains of E. coli are too rare, and do not have a large enough economic impact to cause a policy change.  “We disagree and the people of Germany would, too,” CFI stated.

Now that gene-based tests are available to screen for these strains, there’s also evidence that they aren’t rare after all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that last year, for the first time, the number of people infected with various strains of non-O157 E. coli exceeded the number of those sickened by O157 in the 10 surveillance states, known as FoodNet, used to monitor foodborne illness trends.

The proposal awaiting approval by federal regulators was filed in October 2009 by the Seattle-based food safety law firm, Marler Clark, sponsor of Food Safety News. Since that request was submitted, the firm has filed two supplements, including the results of private tests showing the pervasiveness of these bacteria in the food supply.

To sign the CFI petition click here