The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service's Salmonella Action Plan, released in December, is inadequate to protect public health, say two U.S. Representatives.
The plan details FSIS strategies to minimize Salmonella in meat and poultry products. It includes reworking poultry inspections, enhancing sampling and testing and developing innovations that could lower Salmonella contamination rates.
Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., however, raised concerns about the plan in a letter sent this week to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. They charge that there is minimal evidence to support benefits in the plan.
"Substantial concerns have been raised about the proposal and there is a conspicuous lack of evidence that the proposed changes will reduce foodborne pathogens," DeLauro and Slaughter wrote. "Considering the paucity of data and lack of comprehensive, external peer review, we are not convinced that this plan will either reduce Salmonella infection or promote public health."
DeLauro has been critical of the HACCP Inspection Models Project to alter poultry inspections. In a statement regarding her opposition to the Salmonella Action Plan, DeLauro's office said the HIMP has no track record of reducing foodborne illnesses and ignores microbial testing.
"There are no provisions in the modernization plan mandating microbial testing for Salmonella and Campylobacter, the two pathogens most commonly associated with raw poultry," the statement said. "Given the uptick in antibiotic-resistant infections resulting from overuse of antibiotics on the farm, microbial testing is essential in any plan designed to protect the public health."
Reps. Slaughter and DeLauro were also critical of faster line speeds and reorganization of USDA inspectors on poultry production lines.
Specifically, they asked that the Salmonella Action Plan be shelved until: Each proposed change is assessed independently and scientifically to identify its effects; USDA documents and makes public the number of microbial tests performed per bird, the impact of the frequency and specific type of off-line inspection can then be assessed with regard to microbial load; There are system-wide requirements for the testing of Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry plants; and USDA implements its own performance standards on chicken parts without waiting for industry data.
DeLauro was one of 68 signatories on a Monday letter to withdraw the Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule, which would govern the line speed and inspection changes in poultry plants.