Food safety attorney Bill Marler’s petition to ban meat from containing any of 31 Salmonella outbreak serotypes “would be one of the most significant policy changes affecting the meat and poultry industries in decades,” according to the powerful North American Meat Institute (NAMI).
Citing both the significance of the policy change and the current coronavirus outbreak crisis, NAMI wants at least 90 more days for public comment on the petition. The deadline for comments was set for today, but USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will likely grant the NAMI’s request.
“These are not normal times,” wrote Mark Dopp, NAMI’s senior vice president, and general counsel. “The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) is disrupting the ability of everyone — government, the meat and poultry industry, and society in general– to work effectively and efficiently.”
Dopp said the coronavirus outbreak has required a “diversion of resources from regular policymaking” by the entire meat industry.
Marler, who is also the publisher of Food Safety News, filed the 60-page petition Jan. 19. His action was on behalf of victims of Salmonella illness: Rick Schiller, Steven Romes, and the Porter Family, and three well-known activist organizations: Food and Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America, and Consumer Reports.
No salmonella strains are currently banned from meat and poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied petitions to declare four Salmonella so-called superbugs as adulterants in meat and poultry.
Most of the nearly 300 comments that were turned in by today’s deadline want to keep it that way. Carl Custer, the independent consultant for food safety microbiology, is monitoring the incoming comments.
Custer, a retired USDA scientist, says dozens of the comments contain the same phrase: “Many of these strains pose only slight risks, yet the testing requirements that would result from classifying them as adulterants could put small-scale processors out of business.”
Most comments opposing the petition “indicate the commenter had not read the petition and did not understand the petition, the science nor the law,” according to Custer.
“The epidemiology of salmonellosis shows that these outbreak serotypes pose serious risks, ” Custer says. “The CDC has reported that salmonellosis has been the leading cause of foodborne deaths for over four decades, exceeding those of Escherichia coli O157: H7 and botulism. Much of the testing will be borne by FSIS, as is now done. Optional verification testing should be borne by the original pathogen sources, the growers, demonstrating they are selling safe animals.”
FSIS needs to “counter the hazard of meat and poultry borne salmonellosis caused by these outbreak serotypes,” Custer contends.
“Scientists have identified the hazard of meat and poultry borne salmonellosis for over a half-century, ” he adds. “Unsubstantiated political opinions have resisted correcting ‘The Salmonella Problem.’ The time to implement science is now.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimate there are 1.35 million annual Salmonella illnesses with 25,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States.
The petition contends 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.
The Weston A. Price Foundation, which makes various claims about the health benefits of raw milk and animal-based fats, on March 19 began urging its followers to file comments opposing the Marler petition.
“Bill Marler, a personal injury attorney, has filed a petition with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), urging the agency to classify dozens of strains of salmonella as ‘adulterants’ in meat,” a post on the foundation website says.” If USDA grants the petition, then if any of the salmonella strains are detected on raw meat at any level, the meat would be recalled and the facility found in violation of food safety regulations.”
The Weston A. Price Foundation’s call to action ends with this:
“Please join us in urging USDA to reject Marler’s petition.
“You can submit comments until midnight on March 23, 2020, at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FSIS-2020-0007
“Your comments can be very short and simple, just a few sentences.
“Below is a sample comment, but you will have the greatest impact by writing your own – just use this one for ideas.
“I urge USDA to reject the petition to classify 31 strains of salmonella as adulterants and contaminants in meat. While salmonella is a serious problem, this very broad, zero-tolerance approach is not the answer. Many of these strains pose only slight risks, yet the testing requirements that would result from classifying them as adulterants could put small-scale processors out of business. That would ultimately reduce food safety, by further consolidating our meat supply in the hands of large-scale operations. USDA should reject this petition.”
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