With annual retail sales approaching $100 billion, an effective structure of industry associations, and powerful K Street lobbyists, this week is ending in surprising silence from the powerful meat and poultry industries when it comes to banning Salmonella strains.
The week began Jan 19 with the best-known attorney for victims of foodborne illness and allied activist groups formally asking USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to ban 31 salmonella outbreak serotypes from meat and poultry products.
At present, no salmonella strains are banned from meat and poultry, and during recent times, USDA denied petitions to declare four Salmonella “Superbugs” as adulterants in meat and poultry. “Superbugs” are antibiotic-resistant like the coronavirus, which is responsible for the world’s latest rapidly spreading outbreak.
Food safety attorney Bill Marler filed the 60-page petition Sunday. The petitioners, who include five victims, contend the presence of any of the 31 Salmonella strains in meat and poultry is an “undeniable” health hazard in meat and poultry. For purposes of full disclosure, Marler is the publisher of Food Safety News.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimate 1.35 million annual Salmonella illnesses with 25,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States.
The petition claims the 31 Salmonella serotypes should be declared adulterants by USDA under the authority of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act, two of the major federal laws enforced by FSIS.
Whenever public issues involving meat and poultry flare-up, the industries are quick to respond. The two principals are the North American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council. Both go way back with NAMI formed from the 2015 merger of the American Meat Institute and the North American Meat Association.
The meat group and poultry group are both Washington D.C. based. They are adamantly opposed to declaring Salmonella strains as meat and poultry adulterants. But, they’ve kept quiet this week about the rollout of Marler’s Salmonella petition.
Meatingplace, a news service covering the meat and poultry industries, interviewed Marler and posted an introductory article about the petition. However, it did not include any response from its usually handly industry sources. And Marler said Meatingplace was the only industry associated source to reach out to him this week.
Marler asserted that if the U.S. can put a man on the moon and build the Panama Canal, it can figure out how to “get chicken shit out of chicken.” He said it “seems like we’re asking for a lot, . . (but) it’s based in science and on the fact these strains have caused human illnesses and deaths over the last 25 years.”
Petitioners represented by the Marler petition include victims of Salmonella illness: Rick Schiller, Steven Romes, and the Porter Family, and three well-known activist organizations: Food & Water Watch, Consumer Federation of American and Consumer Reports.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FSIS has not yet acknowledged receipt of the Marler petition. The acknowledgment letter won’t say much, other than providing an agency contact. Marler won’t be able to advance the petition to U.S. District Court until FSIS either accepts or denies the petition request.
But his most formable opponents are, for now, not saying anything about Salmonella strains. It’s not the only subject, of course, Tom Super at the National Chicken Council is busy getting the word out about — Superbowl Sunday when experts estimate Americans will consume 1.4 billion chicken wings.
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