Food Safety: Legislation

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act of 2003

Prompt action is needed to clarify the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) legal authority to enforce standards for reducing pathogens in meat and poultry products. These standards are an essential part of the HACCP/Pathogen Reduction rule adopted by USDA in 1996. They were central to getting consumers to support both the adoption of HACCP and the grant of more flexibility to industry meeting food-safety regulations.

The authority to enforce these standards was eviscerated by a December 17, 2001, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Supreme Beef v. USDA (Supreme Beef). This decision held that USDA does not have the authority to enforce standards for reducing pathogens. In issuing its decision, the 5th Circuit Court gutted the core of USDA's 1996 Pathogen Reduction rule. USDA has determined that the 5th Circuit Court decision applies to the entire United States.

Today, there is nothing USDA could do to shut down a meat grinding plant that insists on using low-quality, potentially contaminated trimmings.

This Act would:

Clarify USDA’s authority to set and enforce pathogen reduction standards.

The Act clarifies USDA’s authority under the Federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Acts to enforce pathogen reduction standards in meat and poultry products. It does not interfere with any ongoing scientific review of the existing standard.

Preserve the Secretary’s flexibility to work with plants in danger of failing the standards.

The Act preserves the Secretary’s existing flexibility to work with plants in danger of failing the standard to avoid shutting plants down where plants are genuinely working to come into compliance, and there is no immediate threat to public health. The Secretary has been enforcing the existing standard reasonably, and the Act preserves that.

Ensure that Critical Food-Safety Reforms are Not Destroyed by the Meat and Poultry Industry

USDA should have the authority to enforce standards for pathogen reduction. It is important to remember that USDA set Salmonella performance standards at a level so that the average plant, based on 1996 data, had only an .8% chance of failing the standard three times in a row and facing the possibility that USDA might withdraw inspectors--even if the plant made no food-safety improvements subsequent to adoption of the HACCP rule. To date, five plants have failed the Salmonella standard three times. Only once has USDA moved to withdraw inspection. In that instance, the plant refused to work with USDA to develop a plan for corrective action.

Pathogen reduction standards are the only objective food-safety standards that ensure industry is making progress in reducing the dangerous bacteria and viruses that make people sick. Allowing the Supreme Beef decision to stand would decimate the most important consumer safety reform enacted in the 1996 Pathogen Reduction rule.

Please support Kevin's Law, the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act of 2003.