A salmonella outbreak linked to more than 600 illnesses in 2013 and into this year has served as the catalyst for a new bill to strengthen USDA's recall authority, introduced Wednesday by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered "adulterated" – a term the Congresswomen say is ambiguously defined in current law. Because of that ambiguity, Slaughter and DeLauro say USDA claims to not have the authority to issue recalls for meat, poultry, or egg products.
Although DeLauro and Slaughter do not agree with USDA's interpretation of the law, the Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act would ensure American families are protected, they say.
The bill would require USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics for human medicine.
"The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion," the Congresswomen said in a joint statement. "We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation."
The legislators point to an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg traced back to Foster Farms chicken. The chicken has not been recalled, and in a meeting to discuss the situation with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Representatives say they were told FSIS does not believe they have the authority to declare Salmonella an adulterant.
Both DeLauro and Slaughter are opponents of USDA's Salmonella Action Plan, explaining earlier this year that they believe the plan would not result in more effective poultry inspections and reduce foodborne pathogens.