Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DeLauro, Slaughter Introduce Legislation to Strengthen USDA’s Power to Protect Public Health

WASHINGTON, DC –Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), two of the leading food safety advocates in Congress, today reintroduced the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act, which would strengthen the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to keep Americans safe from contaminated meat, poultry, and eggs. Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated,” which is ambiguously defined in current law. Because of that ambiguity, USDA claims they do not have the authority to issue recalls for meat, poultry, or egg products.

Although DeLauro and Slaughter strenuously object to USDA’s interpretation of the law, they are reintroducing their bill to ensure American families are protected. The legislation would require USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics for human medicine.

“The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion,” said DeLauro and Slaughter. “We urge Congress to pass this legislation before more Americans are sickened by contaminated meat, poultry, or egg products. We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation, or choose inaction due to the fear of lawsuits.”

DeLauro and Slaughter first introduced their legislation on the heels of an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. The outbreak, which lasted for 10 months and sickened 634 people, was traced back to chicken produced by Foster Farms.

“USDA should ensure that all the food that reaches our plates is safe from harmful pathogens, yet all too often, FSIS is hamstrung because it lacks the statutory authority to protect public health,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This sad fact was even revealed in a recent Oregonian exposé that revealed that FSIS was unable to take action against a major poultry processor that was eventually implicated in four separate food borne illness outbreaks dating back to 2004 that sickened hundreds of people. This bill will prevent these unacceptable food safety problems from arising in the first place.”

“USDA should take swift action whenever any meat and poultry is contaminated with a dangerous pathogen,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “This important legislation provides USDA with clear authority to protect consumers.”

“It’s time to stop treating Salmonella, particularly antibiotic resistant Salmonella, as just a natural part of meat and poultry.  This legislation does away with the outdated notion that it’s okay for food companies to sell us food that’s contaminated with dangerous bacteria,” said David Plunkett, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

DeLauro is a former Chairwoman of the Subcommittee that funds USDA. Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would ban the routine overuse of eight critical classes of antibiotics on healthy food animals.

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