Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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Gillibrand Requests New GAO Report To Investigate Toxic E. Coli Infecting American Beef

Over 100 Beef Recalls in Last 5 Years Alone

June 17, 2010

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Domestic and Foreign Marketing, Inspection, and Plant and Animal Health and the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, formally requested a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to investigate the underlying causes of toxic E. coli strains that so frequently contaminates beef made for American families.

More than 100 beef recalls have occurred in America in just the last five years, 78 of which were linked to pathogen contamination, totaling nearly 45 million pounds of beef that have caused serious and at times deadly diseases.

“We cannot wait until another deadly E. coli outbreak before we take action. There are simple, easy steps producers and processors can take to prevent disease and save lives,” Senator Gillibrand said. "Our food safety laws have not been updated in over a century.  Young children are most at risk of being infected by E. coli. It is time to start taking this threat seriously.”

Last month, Senator Gillibrand wrote new legislation that requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to regulate all forms E. coli in beef, not just the single, most common form of E. coli that it currently regulates.  Senator Gillibrand has also authored legislation to require E. coli testing for all ground beef products.  Senator Gillibrand is now calling for a new GAO report that investigates how these contaminants become more prevalent in beef in America, and establishes new criteria to prevent beef contaminations and keep families safe.

Senator Gillibrand’s full letter to the GAO is below:

As the Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Domestic and Foreign Marketing, Inspection, and Plant and Animal Health, I am writing to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) undertake an investigation into the underlying causes of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) contamination of beef, including, but not necessarily limited to 0157:H7, 026, 0111 and 0103.

Since 2005, there have been 111 recalls of beef attributable to problems of mislabeling, failure to inspect, adulteration, and pathogen contamination.  Of these recalls, 78 of them, totaling 44,850,126 pounds of recalled beef, have been linked to pathogen contamination.  The continuing problem of contamination has been responsible for serious illness and death and has shaken consumer confidence in the safety of our nation's beef. 

A 2004 GAO report criticized the adequacy of federal efforts to monitor and ensure compliance with recalls of contaminated meat, which has resulted in significant improvements in the timeliness and dissemination of information associated with recalls.  While I applaud these important improvements, we must take further action into investigating the underlying causes for the increase in the number of recalls.   

The recent uptick in recalls raises the question of whether current practices at the farm and plant level are adequately reducing contamination.  We request, therefore, that GAO study and issue a report as expeditiously as possible to examine the extent to which USDA has addressed STEC contamination before the meat is prepared to enter commerce through such actions as:

  • Conducting research and targeted studies to identify and detect disease-causing strains; including factors that contribute to their presence, such as seasonality, animal diet, cleanliness of hide prior to slaughter and the use of antibiotics;
  • Developing and distributing validated best practices and guidance for feed lots;
  • Inspecting farms and feed lots for compliance with and verification of STEC reduction plans, and
  • Benchmarking regulatory oversight in the U.S. with practices other countries use to mitigate STEC contamination before processing.

It is our hope that this study will enable us to identify the best practices for reducing E. coli load and mitigation techniques prior to slaughter.


Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator