Washington, D.C. – On the heels of a Government Accountable Office (GAO) report that found that the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was moving forward with an expanded poultry pilot without proper data collection and evaluation, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chairwoman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security, today introduced the Safe Meat and Poultry Act that would reduce the number of foodborne outbreaks and strengthen the country’s agriculture and food industry by updating the nation’s dated meat and poultry inspection and consumer notification system.
“As I cook dinner for my family most nights, I want to know what I am serving is safe for my children to eat,” Senator Gillibrand said. “This legislation contains practical measures to ensure no American gambles with their health when purchasing poultry or meat product. Not only would we reduce foodborne illness, but we also strengthen our nation’s agriculture and food industry.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans will suffer from a foodborne illness every year and of the 128,000 Americans each year that are hospitalized with a foodborne illness, 3,000 die. Furthermore, this year the CDC reported that no progress has been made in reducing the number of Salmonella outbreaks.
The nation’s economy is also impacted by pathogen outbreaks. The Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida estimates the annual public health and economic costs of foodborne illness in the US is estimated to be over 14 billion dollars annually for just the top 14 pathogens. In addition, each year the meat and poultry industry loses over 500 million dollars due to recalled products.
The high number of outbreaks and significant personal and financial toll that follows is, in large part, caused by the inability to upgrade the food safety legislation at the USDA since 1906. Senator Gillibrand’s Safe Meat and Poultry Act would decrease pathogens, protects whistleblowers that report public health issues, and improve customer notification process.
Specifically, this legislation would:
- Create mandatory pathogen reduction performance standards and expand the authority of the USDA to regulate new pathogens, which will make progress towards targeting and reducing dangerous pathogens in the meat and poultry supply.
- Improve consumer notification for recalls of contaminated products.
- Provide whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public health issues and support a more resilient agriculture industry.
- Provide better enforcement penalties, including criminal penalties for intentionally putting unsafe products in the marketplace, and escalating enforcement action for the few bad actors that have a repeated history of serious failures to ensure food safety.
- Safeguard our borders from unsafe or adulterated foreign meat and poultry products by ensuring regular international audits by the Food Safety & Inspection Service.
- Increase the emphasis on prevention throughout the entire food safety system, including for pathogens, chemical residues, and potential contamination.
- Improve consideration given to occupational health & safety to support a safe and sustainable environment in which wholesome products can be produced, inspected, and passed.