Reacting to the most ground beef recall and outbreak involving an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are again calling for federal action on the growing public health threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

groundbeefhunk-406.jpg“When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without worrying that what we put on our plates is exposing our families to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said Slaughter in a statement Monday. “How much longer is the federal government going to wait before waking up to the public health threat, looming quite literally, under our noses?”

“We have a duty to protect the public health, and frankly the foot-dragging we are seeing on this issue here in Washington is legislative malpractice.”

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said Hannaford, a Scarborough, ME-based grocery chain, had initiated a recall of an undetermined amount of fresh ground beef that may be contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium, after a 14 person outbreak was linked to the product.

Individuals linked to the outbreak purchased beef in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, Slaughter’s home state.

The outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium has initially tested resistant to multiple commonly prescribed antibiotics, including drug classes such as beta-lactams, aminoglycosides and cephalosporins, which can make the illnesses harder to treat. Seven of the 14 people linked to the outbreak have been hospitalized.

“If an animal is sick, it should be treated,” said Slaughter, who has sponsored legislation aimed at limiting antibiotic usage in animal agriculture. “But the routine, regular dosing of antibiotics to healthy animals is absolutely contributing to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It would be like a mother sprinkling antibiotics on their son or daughter’s Cheerios every morning to prevent them from getting sick. It’s ridiculous. We must act now or we will continue to see more and more cases like this as we diminish the effectiveness of life-saving medications.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is attacking the issue from a different angle. The group has petitioned FSIS to declare certain antibiotic-resistant strains Salmonella, including Typhimurium, as adulterants, which would make them illegal in meat and poultry products.

“That declaration would trigger enhanced testing for these dangerous pathogens, and could minimize their entry into commerce,” the group said Monday.

“FSIS says it is developing regulations to require better recordkeeping by retailers who grind beef–but that process can take years and consumers cannot afford to wait.  Retailers must be responsible for keeping track of where beef is coming from so that they can assist FSIS and consumers with timely traceback during an outbreak investigation.”