An impressive sounding name — Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — is not likely to make up for the advocacy group’s lack of scientific evidence for a new petition it has filed with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
A statement from the FSIS said the Physicians Committee request for testing meat and poultry for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 is being considered as a rulemaking petition without providing any scientific studies or other supportive information to show that it can be transmitted by food or food packaging. SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that causes COVID-19.
The five-page “emergency petition” was filed by the Washington D..C.-based group that advocates for plant-based food and animal rights. Its members were recently marching in the streets to demand the closing of meat plants.
In the petition, the Physicians Committee contends meat and poultry might contain coronavirus because some employees involved in the production were infected.
In addition to asking FSIS to require testing of meat and poultry for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 “and immediately make the findings publicly available,” the petition demands that meat and poultry facilities weekly report “the number of workers or worker family members with presumptive or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 and those dying of COVID-19.”
It wants USDA to weekly report the same information for meat and poultry inspectors. Finally, it wants warning labels on meat and poultry, saying the products have not “been certified as virus-free” It also wants the warnings placed in retail meat and check-out counters.
The Physicians Committee claims that since the COVID-19 pandemic got underway, 14,259 employees of meat and poultry plants were infected with the virus and 59 have died. If true, the number of infections would amount to less than 8 percent of the 170,000 to 180,000 employees that normally staff these plants, and a fatality rate of 0.4 percent of those infected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say testing meat and poultry is not necessary because food has not been implicated in the transmission of COVID-19.
The WHO specifically says “testing of food or food surfaces for this virus is not recommended.”
The non-profit Physicians Committee previously petitioned FSIS, asking for feces to be declared an adulterant in meat and poultry. The organization has come in for criticism for its financial support from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also known as PETA. It claims 12,000 physicians among 150,000 members in the United States.
The activist group also campaigns against the nation’s medical schools with live animal laboratories and for plant-based diets in schools that avoid the use of dairy products. It also supported the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2015.
It is currently lobbying the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to “ditch” dairy as a food group.
The group’s most recent petition asking FSIS to declare and regulate feces as an adulterant was filed on March 14, 2013, but was largely ignored by the agency until June 21, 2019, when it was denied.
“We have decided to deny your petition because we disagree with the petition’s underlying assumption that meat and poultry products bearing the mark of inspection are likely to be contaminated with feces,” said the FSIS ruling.
The agency said existing regulations and policies comprehensively address the disposition of adulterated meat and poultry products from various sources, including carcasses with fecal contamination. It said fecal contamination is a “visible food safety defect that can be removed by trimming or reprocessing” under existing regulations.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)