Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) are introducing a bill in the House of Representatives that would give the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the authority to declare any foodborne pathogen an adulterant and recall contaminated products.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), left, and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) unveiled their proposed “Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act” on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
The “Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act” amends the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act to create a clearer definition for an adulterant to include “a microbial pathogen, such as Campylobacter or Salmonella, that is resistant to not less than two critically important antibiotics for human medicine” and mandates that FSIS develop and implement stronger testing protocols to identify the adulterants. “We need to make sure that USDA and the other agencies have the tools and the mandate to move rapidly on behalf of public health,” DeLauro said. Although several strains of E. coli have been declared adulterants, along with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat products, FSIS has previously indicated that it does not have the authority to declare Salmonella an adulterant in cases such as raw poultry. During a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in April, Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm said that the agency’s Salmonella action plan is a “blueprint to express our frustration” with the prevalence of the pathogen industry-wide. He added that FSIS is “happy to have a conversation” about mandatory recall authority, but will use the tools it does have in the meantime. When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee in March, he said that court decisions indicate that the agency does not have the authority to declare antibiotic-resistant Salmonella an adulterant. “Ask us for the authority,” DeLauro countered. “We’re still waiting for that,” Slaughter said during a press conference to unveil the legislation, “but we’re going to give it to them anyway.” During the briefing, DeLauro and Slaughter both referenced the ongoing outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farms chicken, which has so far prompted no recalls. “What good is a regulatory agency if it doesn’t have the power to regulate?” Slaughter said. Moving forward, DeLauro and Slaughter will be working on getting co-sponsors for the bill, and Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of the food safety program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said that members from the 27 states with victims in the Foster Farms-linked outbreak will be key targets for co-sponsorship. “The only other thing that we can do, if we don’t get a hearing on it in committee, is to get 218 signatures, which will obviously need to be bipartisan,” Slaughter said. “This is not a partisan issue,” DeLauro added. CPSI, Food & Water Watch, and the Consumer Federation of America have all expressed their support for the bill. In an email to Food Safety News, an FSIS spokesperson responded to the new proposal by saying, “We appreciate the Congresswomen’s ongoing efforts on our shared goal of ensuring that food safety standards continue to be stringent, effective, and constantly improving. FSIS will continue to work aggressively in preventing foodborne illness, including implementing the first-ever performance standards for Salmonella in chicken parts and ground poultry later this year.”