THE BLOG
06/04/2010 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My Response to the American Meat Institute Statement on New Bill to Declare Additional Strains of E. coli as Adulterants

AMI: We share Sen. Gillibrand's desire to eradicate pathogenic bacteria, but we don't believe that an act of Congress can make these bacteria disappear. We also are puzzled by the fact that this bill is being introduced at a time when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is tracking an outbreak of E. coli O145 (one of the strains in the bill) associated with romaine lettuce, yet the bill would only declare the pathogen an adulterant when found on meat.

ME: Good for the Senator for doing something the FSIS and the Beef Industry should have done years ago. If a pathogen that can kill you is in your food -- regardless of the type -- it should be an adulterant. And, as AMI well knows, FDA has jurisdiction over lettuce and already does consider E. coli O145 an adulterant. The beef industry has been dragging its hoofs.

AMI: It is even more interesting to consider that no confirmed outbreak of any of the six strains in her bill has ever been associated with a meat product.

ME: Really? See this report put out by the CDC last week. True, there has ONLY been one outbreak linked to the consumption of beef, but there have also been outbreaks linked to animal contact. And, given the fact that few labs test for these bugs, is there any wonder that outbreaks are few and far between?

AMI: At this point, there is no test available to detect the six additional strains included in the bill.

ME: Hmm? Them why have the tests I have done on 5,000 retail samples and the 4,000 tests by USDA seem to work well? And, yes, why have the tests performed by FDA and CDC and various State labs worked?

AMI: In addition, experts at USDA have said in public meetings that the food safety systems we have in place work equally well for non-157 and O157 STECS. These systems have reduced E. coli O157:H7 on raw ground beef by 63 percent since 2000 and have helped us achieve our Health People 2010 goal for reducing these infections.

ME: The CDC estimates that non-O157 STECs cause 36,740 illnesses, 1,083 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year. The CDC also estimates that E. coli O157:H7 still causes 73,480 illnesses, 2,167 hospitalizations and 61 deaths in America each year. AMI, do you really find this acceptable?

AMI: We are concerned that food safety resources in the private sector and the public sector are not infinite. It's important to invest in technologies that will provide meaningful food safety benefits. We do not believe that declaring non-O157 STECS to be adulterants will enhance the food safety system, and we think that application of such a policy could consume resources that could be better spent elsewhere to achieve meaningful food safety progress.

ME: I like to keep things simple. If a pathogen that can kill my kid is in their food, it should be an adulterant. Here is the law:

21 U.S.C. § 601(m)(4) - SUBCHAPTER I - INSPECTION REQUIREMENTS; ADULTERATION AND MISBRANDING - CHAPTER 12 - MEAT INSPECTION - TITLE 21--FOOD AND DRUGS

(m) The term "adulterated" shall apply to any carcass, part thereof, meat or meat food product under one or more of the following circumstances:

(1) if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance, such article shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in or on such article does not ordinarily render it injurious to health; ...

(3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or is for any other reason unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food;

(4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health; ...

Hmmm, it is hard to read the above and not think that the words apply to all E. coli (frankly, all pathogens in food). I know, I am just a lawyer, but don't ya think that when food with animal feces (and a dash of E. coli O157:H7) in it is considered an adulterant, that other animal feces (with dashes of other pathogens) in them, should be considered adulterated too? But, hey, that is just me. That is why we filed the Petition with FSIS to deem these non-O157's as adulterants.