WASHINGTON, June 26, 2014 - House food safety stalwarts Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. yesterday introduced legislation that would give USDA power to recall any meat, poultry or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or that are antibiotic resistant. 

The Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act would give USDA the legal authority to declare salmonella, among other pathogens, an “adulterant,” and allowing it to recall infected meats. The term “adulterated” is “ambiguously defined in current law,” according to a release by the two congresswomen. 

“This makes no sense,” DeLauro said of salmonella’s exclusion under current law during a press conference. 

USDA, however, has not asked for the power to recall meats infected with salmonella. In a blog post published on the industry website Meatingplace last year, former Deputy Acting Under Secretary of Food Safety Scott Hurd argued categorizing the pathogen as an adulterant would prove too heavy a regulatory burden on industry. 

“Adulterant means permissible levels are zero,” Hurd wrote. “I am afraid that poultry producers would just have to bleach or cook everything they produce. I don’t think that is achievable, at this point.

In a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the law denied the department the “authority or jurisdiction” to declare salmonella an adulterant. He said the department currently uses performance standards that acknowledge “the reality of the biology of food production…that there are certain levels that can’t be avoided and have to be dealt with in other ways.” 

“Ask us for the authority!” DeLauro responded in March.

During Wednesday’s news conference, DeLauro and Slaughter also discussed their other food safety priorities. Slaughter’s Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act – which would phase out the use of antibiotics in healthy, food-producing animals to combat antibiotic resistance – has been introduced in every congressional session since 2007. 

“We’re squandering the world’s greatest breakthrough in medical science,” she said of the topic. 


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