Food & Water Watch has questioned the Salmonella reduction figures given by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in its plan released this week.
USDA-FSIS’s Salmonella Action Plan said an estimated 1.3 million illnesses can be attributed to the pathogen every year.
FSIS estimates that the modernization in inspection activities is likely to result in a reduction of at least 4,286 Salmonella illnesses per year in the US.
Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director, said that while the Centers for Disease Control says that minimal progress has been made to reduce outbreaks associated with Salmonella contamination, FSIS argues that rates in young chickens have decreased by 75% since 2006.
“The agency is deriving these numbers from its regulatory testing program that is not based on random sampling.
“In fact, the agency concluded in a 2012 research paper that accurate prevalence estimates for Salmonella could not be calculated by the data generated in its current Salmonella testing program.”
Changes in the plan
The plan would expand a pilot project in place in two-dozen plants to 200 poultry sites, the subject of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Proposed change would remove most FSIS inspectors from slaughter lines and replace them with company employees and permit chicken plants to increase line speeds to 175 birds-per-minute.
Enhancing sampling and testing programs is part of ensuring that the latest scientific information is available and emerging trends can be accounted for, said USDA-FSIS .
Hauter said the plan is a deregulation of the poultry industry that will put consumers, workers and animal welfare at risk.
“FSIS has received hundreds of thousands of comments from consumers opposed to this change and worker safety advocates have raised serious concerns that poultry plant workers will suffer increased rates of injuries trying to keep up with increased line speeds.
“To really tackle the salmonella problem, USDA should not be trying to cut government inspection of poultry products.
“Instead the Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce, not deregulate inspection.”
US Representatives says plan falls short
Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Louise M. Slaughter said that while USDA’s initiative in issuing the plan is to be applauded, the substance falls short in addressing this important public health issue.
DeLauro said: “The Government Accountability Office recently identified major flaws in the proposed poultry slaughter program, so why is USDA proposing we expand the program? Meat is continuing to leave these processing facilities contaminated with Salmonella.
“We should be fixing the source of the problem, not leaving it up to consumers to guess whether their dinner will send them to the hospital.”
Slaughter said public health and safety of food should be USDA’s number one priority.
“I appreciate that USDA is paying more attention to the issue of Salmonella. However, the root of the problem with resistant superbacteria is the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture creating that resistance,” she said.
An outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg this year sickened 389 people, with a hospitalization rate of more than 40%.
Instead of temporarily closing the plants where the outbreak began, the USDA allowed the plant to continue producing poultry, said the representatives.