The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an activist group focused on food safety issues, claims the US Department of Agriculture is sitting on its hands and failing to protect consumers from the foodborne pathogen in meat and poultry. The lawsuit calls for the agency to take action on the CPSI’s three-year-old petition to declare the Salmonella strains as adulterants.
Blocking tainted meat
If the agency were to declare antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as adulterants, the move would bar the sale and distribution of meat affected by the pathogen. Caroline Smith DeWaal, CPSI food safety director, told FoodProductionDaily the USDA should be proactive, rather than reluctant, in responding to the threat from the strains.
“The USDA takes action only after people start becoming ill from these life-threatening antibiotic-resistant superbugs," she said. “It is time for USDA to declare these dangerous resistant strains as adulterants and then require industry to conduct aggressive testing to keep meat and poultry contaminated with these strains out of the food supply, as it does with products contaminated with dangerous strains of E. coli.”
History of outbreaks
The Salmonella strains spelled out in the petition (Heidelberg, Newport, Hadar, and Typhimurium—have been implicated in outbreaks associated with ground turkey, ground beef, and other foods; according to the CPSI, at least 168 illnesses, 47 hospitalizations, and one death were caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 2011 alone. Two outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg linked to chicken meat from producer Foster Farms struck more than 650 consumers in the US from 2012 to this year.
In July 2013, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reported the USDA was reviewing the petition. According to the CPSI, the inaction violates regulations requiring the Food Safety and Inspection Service to “take expedited action on petitions intended to enhance public health by removing pathogens from meat and poultry.”
The suit, CSPI v. Vilsack, was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.