July 16, 2018

CSPI Sues USDA over Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Again

A lawsuit filed today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) charges that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is not protecting the public from dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in poultry an ground meat. The nonprofit wants the court to force the government to respond to a three-year-old regulatory petition CSPI filed to classify antibitoic-resistant Salmoenlla strains as adulterants.

Petri DishThe huge Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak is just one such example of this problem. Seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have sickened 574 people in the last year. That actually means that more than 17,000 people have been sickened by that contaminated chicken, using the multiplier for Salmonella, which is 30.3. Furthermore, four of those seven strains are antibioitc-resistant, which helps explain the high hospitalization rate in that outbreak: almost 40%, which is double the usual rate.

CSPI named four strains of Salmonella in its petition: Heidelberg, Newport, Hadar, and Typhimurium, that have caused dozens of outbreaks linked to raw meats and leafy greens. The Foster Farms outbreak is the second one linked to their chicken; the total number sickened by that company’s products is 650 (24,700 with the multiplier, which is 38 for Salmonella outbreaks, which are very underreported to authorities).

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologized to CSPI almost a year ago, saying that the agency’s review of the issue is continuing. Ten months later, nothing has been done.

CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement, “USDA takes action only after people start becoming ill from these life-threatening antibiotic-resistant superbugs. 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.”

If antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is classified as a legal adulterant, there may be a recall of Foster Farms chicken. No recall has been issued by the company or forced by the government, despite the huge numbers of ill persons. The USDA does not have the authority at this time to force a recall.

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