June 16, 2024

Meat Industry Wants Delay of USDA Testing on Non-O157 E. coli

The American Meat Institute, along with other organizations, asked the U.S. government to delay a testing plan and ban on non-O157 strains of E. coli in ground beef and beef trim.

Raw Ground BeefThe organizations, which include the Southwest Meat Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Meat Association, believe that the non-O157 strains do not pose an urgent public health risk. They also believe that current methods used to control E. coli O157:H7, one strain of the pathogenic bacteria, adequately control the other strains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that non-O157 E. coli strains cause about 112,000 illnesses in the United States every year. Beef consumption is implicated in 36,700 of those illnesses.

The Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for Foodborne Illness Research, and Food and Water Watch all expressed support for the USDA plan, which will be implemented by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The USDA studied the issue for four years, then announced in September 2010 it would declare the six E. coli strains “adulterants” in beef, which means any uncooked meat containing those bacteria cannot be sold for public consumption. At this time, only E. coli O157:H7 is classified as an adulterant.

Members of the food safety community want the testing and prohibition to begin as scheduled. They insist that these potentially deadly pathogens do not belong in our food supply. Food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker has said, “eating a hamburger should not be a high-risk activity.”

The testing and prohibition is supposed to begin in March 2012. The public comment period for this proposed rule has been extended until December 21, 2011. The FSIS will respond to comments in the Federal register sometime early next year, and will decide then whether or not to proceed with the plan. To read the proposed rule, please visit Regulations.gov.

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