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For Immediate
Release:
March 14, 2002

For more information:
202/332-9110

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Letter to President Bush


  “President Bush, don’t make us put our lives on the line every time we put meat on our plates.”
Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

     On January 18, a 78-year-old Wisconsin woman, Virginia Griggs, contacted the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Last September, Mrs. Griggs ate a hamburger at a restaurant near her home. Within 24 hours, she started experiencing abdominal pains and diarrhea. Her symptoms worsened over the next three days until she seemed so weak that her daughter took her to the emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital and tested for Salmonella. These tests were positive. Mrs. Griggs believes that the hamburger that she ate contained the bacteria that made her sick.

     Mrs. Griggs was lucky. She is doing well today, though even after six months, she still has abdominal pain. But many are not so lucky. And unfortunately, unless President Bush takes action, there will be many more such cases of food poisoning from Salmonella. This is because the Bush Administration is not enforcing U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for Salmonella. They are letting ground beef plants continue to operate even if the plants repeatedly fail government tests showing that their meat contains this life-threatening hazard. The agency claims that they can still shut the plants down, but they are relying on powers that have for decades failed to protect the public from disease-causing agents in meat.

     Today, we are here to ask the President to ensure that food safety doesn’t backslide in the Bush Administration. With over 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths per year from contaminated food and recent threats of food bioterrorism, it is critical that President Bush take strong action to keep our meat supply safe.

     Fourteen groups representing millions of consumers and thousands of health professionals are asking the Bush administration to take five actions to make the meat supply safer:

  1. Support a bill filed by Senator Harkin today called the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act to restore and expand USDA’s authority to control Salmonella and other disease-causing hazards in the food supply.
     
  2. Direct USDA to make full and immediate disclosure of Salmonella test results for 2001. Consumers want to know how the meat industry is performing, not only as a group, but also as individual companies. President Bush should instruct USDA to TEST and TELL.
     
  3. Direct USDA to require ready-to-eat meat plants to test their plants and their products for the deadly hazard Listeria monocytogenes. Secretary Veneman proposed a testing program soon after she took office, but now is tied up in bureaucratic red tape. Meanwhile, the chance of another outbreak like the 1998 one involving Sara Lee deli meats and hotdogs is as great as ever. That outbreak sickened 100 and killed 21. Consumers can only wonder how large the next one will be.
     
  4. Direct USDA to compel beef plants to test carcasses for E. coli O157:H7. Many of the families here have experienced the horror that that hazard can produce. Yet, USDA has stalled in making progress to require beef companies to test carcasses.
     
  5. Finally, the Administration should reverse course on the HACCP Inspection Models Project. Instead, they should build on the strength of the current inspection program by adding more microbial testing.

     Unless the Bush Administration takes action, the safety of meat will decline. As the experiences of Mrs. Virginia Griggs and the other families represented here clearly attest, consumers can’t afford to wait. President Bush, don’t make us put our lives on the line every time we put meat on our plates.