Gillibrand bill seeks to bolster meat safety

The legislation contains provisions meant to lower cases of foodborne illness, which hit one in six Americans every year – killing roughly 3,000 people annually, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under the bill, the USDA would be given new authority to regulate pathogens via new performance standards. The legislation also calls for the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to conduct regular international audits to look for adulterated foreign meat products that pass across borders into the United States.

The bill would strengthen whistleblower protections for both government and private food industry workers who report unhealthy or unsafe issues, and improve the consumer notifications when recalls occur.

“The bill is comprehensive in its approach to fixing deficiencies in FSIS’s inspection programs, but also reinforces the critical role that continuous USDA inspection of meat and poultry plays in protecting public health,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

The group was just one of several public interest organizations who hailed the bill’s introduction, as pressure mounts on the Agriculture Department to pull back regulations meant to update the poultry inspection system.

The USDA’s draft regulations, unveiled last year, would cut the number of on-site federal inspectors, shifting responsibilities to plant employees. They would also allow for plants to increase line speeds, so that as many as 175 carcasses could pass by workers every minute. 

“Speeding up inspection makes USDA look like an agency that is more concerned about boosting corporate profits than protecting consumers from foodborne diseases,” said attorney David Plunkett  of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “This legislation would refocus the agency on its primary business of protecting consumers.”