The food industry has long argued that banning more pathogens would represent overreaching government regulation, because many pathogens (such as salmonella and other varieties of E. coli) are found on a significant percentage of beef sold, it would be expensive to get rid of all the pathogens, and the beef will be sufficiently safe if consumers handle it and cook it well.
Today, the New York Times reports that USDA for the first time will ban six more strains of E. coli. Raw beef with these pathogens would be considered adulterated, and unfit for sale. William Neuman quotes USDA officials explaining the change:
“This is one of the biggest steps forward in the protection of the beef supply in some time,” said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the head of food safety for the Department of Agriculture, which regulates meat. “We’re doing this to prevent illness and to save lives.”Neuman also quotes representatives from the American Meat Institute saying that it would be better to continue to keep these strains of E. coli legal for raw beef:
The American Meat Institute, an industry group, was highly critical of the new policy. “Imposing this new regulatory program on ground beef will cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars — costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers,” the group said in a statement. “It is neither likely to yield a significant public health benefit nor is it good public policy.”Under the new policy, if the six additional strains of E. coli are found on beef, the product need not be destroyed. Instead, the beef may legally be redirected for use in cooked beef products. The meat industry would in this case bear the cost of ensuring that meat containing these strains of E. coli is correctly channeled to the cooked meat manufacturing process.
Congress is also looking at this issue. Helena Bottemiller at Food Safety News reports on legislation proposed in Congress that would broaden the definition of adulterated meat and egg products.