USDA Issues Twin Setbacks for Public Health

Agency Refuses to Act on Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella and Advances Controversial Poultry Inspection Plan


The U.S. Department of Agriculture today denied a three-year-old regulatory petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest asking the department to declare dangerous strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella as adulterants. The department also released a long-awaited redraft to a proposal ostensibly aimed at modernizing poultry inspection but that has been roundly criticized by advocates in the labor, animal welfare, and food safety movements.

"USDA's failure to act on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in the meat supply ignores vital information about the public health risk posed by these pathogens," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Despite numerous examples of outbreaks linked to resistant pathogens, USDA leaves consumers vulnerable to illnesses that carry a much greater risk of hard-to-treat infections leading to hospitalization."

In the last year, numerous public health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and a Presidential scientific advisory panel have voiced alarm that antibiotic resistance is reaching epidemic proportions. Last year CSPI published a white paper that showed that 73 percent of antibiotics important for human medicine are actually used on the farm, with the majority being fed to animals.

"This widespread overuse of essential medicines allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to invade our food supply and the water and environment near where the animals and poultry are raised," DeWaal said.

Also today the Department published a final rule advancing a new poultry inspection system. Modeled on the HACCP Inspection Models Project, or HIMP, the new system privatizes many poultry inspection activities and reduces the number of government inspectors in the nation's poultry processing plants.

"In its desire to save some nine million dollars next year, the USDA missed the boat on designing a scientific approach to modernizing poultry inspection," DeWaal said. "With more than 600 people sick from the Foster Farms outbreak alone, this is hardly the time to reduce USDA's oversight of the poultry industry."

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