A Moment of Unity in the Fight for Food Safety

Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest

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Prior to joining CSPI, I worked in public health and clinical practice as a farm veterinarian, trying to stop animal diseases from affecting humans. I switched to advocacy work because I saw that there were many opportunities for public health improvements in our entire food system, from farm to fork. Poultry food safety was one such opportunity. 

Each year, Salmonella and Campylobacter, two bacteria commonly found in poultry, sicken over 3 million Americans and cause over $6 billion in damages. These illness rates have not changed substantially in 20 years, indicating that the current regulatory system is not doing a good enough job of protecting consumers. 

But yesterday, there was a moment of unity in the fight for better food safety in the United States. Some of the top poultry producers in the United States--Butterball, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods, and Wayne Farms--joined with CSPI and fellow advocacy groups Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America, and Stop Foodborne Illness to align behind a set of food safety principles, and asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to revamp the poultry food safety system according to these principles. Adding their signatures to the request were victims of foodborne illness, former top United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials, leading food safety scientists, and the Association of Food and Drug Officials.  

CSPI and the other advocacy organizations petitioned the USDA earlier this year to revamp the poultry food safety regulatory system. The science, as we pointed out in our petition, shows that some subspecies of these bacteria exact a higher public health toll than others and that the level of bacterial contamination is important. The current regulatory standards, however, treat all contamination the same, leaving producers with little incentive to target and eliminate the most significant threats to public health. Our proposed food safety principles and systems would change that. 

These opportunities for change are the reason I am excited to be a part of CSPI. With an independent perspective, we compare what the science shows to industry and government action. Anytime there is a mismatch, we view it as our job to step in to protect the public.  

I look forward to using the momentum from this newly formed coalition to make meaningful changes to the poultry food safety system.