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Meat industry opposes legislation to require new E. coli tests

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 03-Jun-2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation to test for six E. coli strains that currently are not regulated – but the meat industry claims there are significant problems with the proposal.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently requires meat processing companies to test for the most common strain of E. coli, known as E. coli 0157: H7. But six other strains – called non-0157 STECs – are unregulated in meat and poultry products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that these strains cause 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year.

“In America, in 2010, it is unconscionable that food is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure its safety,” Gillibrand said. “It’s spreading too many diseases and costing too many lives. The laws that are meant to keep us safe from hazardous foods are in critical need of updating. We need to pass this legislation to keep our families safe.”

Gillibrand’s proposed legislation would add the six other forms of E. coli to fall under the USDA’s jurisdiction, requiring it to spot test for the pathogen, and recommend best testing practices to companies.

In response to the proposed legislation, the American Meat Institute (AMI) said in a statement: “We share Sen. Gillibrand’s desire to eradicate pathogenic bacteria, but we don’t believe that an act of Congress can make these bacteria disappear…We are concerned that food safety resources in the private sector and the public sector are not infinite. It’s important to invest in technologies that will provide meaningful food safety benefits.”

The AMI also claimed that there is currently no test available to detect these E. coli strains, a point that food safety attorney Bill Marler has disputed, pointing out on his blog that the Food and Drug Administration, which does test for non-0157 STECS, recently found E. coli 0145 to be associated with a romaine lettuce recall.

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