October 20, 2014

Gillibrand, Feinstein, Durbin Announce Release Of Gao Food Safety Report Showing Bacteria In Poultry Not Being Sufficiently Monitored By USDA; Senators Urge USDA To Upgrade Poultry Bacteria Monitoring

Senators Requested The GAO Study of Food Pathogen Standards; Raised Issue in Agriculture Committee Hearings and Letters to Federal Food Safety Agencies

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Durbin (D-IL) today announced the release of a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailing several major shortcomings in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety regulations. Senators Gillibrand and Feinstein requested the report in March to evaluate the effectiveness of pathogen standards implemented by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the federal agency responsible for the safety and proper labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products.

The report emphasizes the pressing need for USDA FSIS to upgrade its food safety monitoring. It specifically highlights bacteria from poultry products - Salmonella and Campylobacter – as areas of concern for the safety of America’s food supply, and emphasizes that they are not being sufficiently monitored by the USDA FSIS. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these pathogens are two of the top five contributors to foodborne illnesses, and hospitalization and death resulting from foodborne illness in the United States. The report also urges the USDA FSIS to strengthen its standards for the level of pathogens on poultry.

“We have to be vigilant in protecting our families when it comes to ensuring the safety of our food,” said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “This GAO report confirms what we suspected, the government isn't doing enough to ensure the safety of our food supply. We have to bring our food production and inspection systems into the 21st century.”

“The GAO report confirms that USDA’s pathogen standards for poultry products do not adequately protect public health,” said Senator Feinstein. “Strong new standards are desperately needed to reduce contamination and safeguard consumers from Salmonella and Campylobacter. I urge USDA to finalize strong standards, which it has committed to doing before the end of the year, so they can be implemented and improve food safety.”

“Today’s GAO report serves as proof that our government needs to be doing more when it comes to food safety and ridding our food supply of dangerous pathogens,” said Senator Durbin. “The USDA should not wait any longer to finalize new, stronger pathogen standards for poultry products being sold in the United States. Improving these standards will protect public health and improve food safety for consumers nationwide.”

The GAO report includes a list of recommendations for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to incorporate into its food oversight operations. In response to the report, Senators Gillibrand, Feinstein, and Durbin wrote a new letter to the USDA to urge them to publish new pathogen standards based on the GAO’s recommendations.

GAO recommendations in the report include:

1.      USDA should revise its Salmonella standards for ground chicken and turkey products and create performance measure to track plant compliance and progress to Agency’s goals.

2.      USDA should develop Salmonella and Campylobacter performance measures for whole turkey products.

3.      USDA should develop Campylobacter compliance categories and performance measures with targets to track plant compliance and progress to Agency’s goals.

4.      USDA should include information on the effectiveness of on-farm practices that can reduces Salmonella and Campylobacter pathogens in their compliance guidelines

The full text of the Senators’ letter is attached.