Following concerns raised earlier this week about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s poultry-inspection pilot program, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill Thursday to update meat and poultry inspection, along with the consumer-notification system for recalls. The 73-page “Safe Meat and Poultry Act” aims to better protect consumers against foodborne illnesses. Gillibrand claims that the high number of outbreaks is partially due to outdated food-safety regulations at USDA. As the bill states, “the Federal Meat Inspection Act was first enacted in 1907, the Poultry Products Inspection Act was first enacted in 1957, and the last substantial amendment to those laws occurred 44 years [ago].” “Federal food safety standard setting, inspection, enforcement, and research efforts should be based on the best available science and public health considerations, and food safety resources should be deployed in ways that most effectively prevent foodborne illness,” the bill states. Specifically, Gillibrand’s bill seeks to:

  • Create mandatory pathogen reduction performance standards and expand the authority of USDA to regulate new pathogens, which will make progress toward targeting and reducing dangerous pathogens in the meat and poultry supply.
  • Improve consumer notification for recalls of contaminated products.
  • Provide whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public-health issues and support a more resilient agriculture industry.
  • Provide better enforcement penalties, including criminal penalties, for intentionally putting unsafe products in the marketplace, and escalating enforcement action for the few bad actors who have a repeated history of serious failures to ensure food safety.
  • Safeguard our borders from unsafe or adulterated foreign meat and poultry products by ensuring regular international audits by the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
  • Increase the emphasis on prevention throughout the entire food-safety system, including for pathogens, chemical residues and potential contamination.
  • Improve consideration given to occupational health and safety to support a safe and sustainable environment in which wholesome products can be produced, inspected and passed.

Gillibrand chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security, and championed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in 2011. Two years ago, she introduced the Foodborne Illness Reduction Act of 2011 with the aim of similarly modernizing USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, but the bill died in committee.