Perdue at USDA Will Threaten Food Safety and Public Health

This blogpost was co-authored by Claire Fitch, Carolyn Hricko, Bob Martin and Jim Yager.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue finally had his day in front of the Senate, the last in a long line of Trump administration nominees. In the two months since the announcement of his nomination for Secretary of Agriculture, questions have been raised about Perdue’s conflicts of interest, denial of climate change, ethical violations, and efforts to undermine food safety and local control. Read More >

Salmonella Outbreak: USDA Gets It Half-Right

The newest superbug in town is Salmonella Heidelberg, and the USDA has issued words of caution to U.S. consumers and instructions for proper meat handling—but it needs to press for reform in agricultural practices, as well.

The CDC has identified S. Heidelberg as “resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics,” and so far the outbreak, which is linked to ground turkey, has sickened 77 people in 26 states and killed one person in California. (The CDC has not specified the drugs to which this Salmonella strain is resistant.)

The emergence of the antibiotic-resistant strain prompted the USDA last Friday to issue a public health alert urging consumers to use caution when handling ground turkey, and to cook all poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. And today, meat processing firm Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation voluntarily recalled 36 million pounds of its ground turkey products. (For details on Cargill’s decision to suspend ground turkey production at its Arkansas facility, read yesterday’s New York Times and Mother Jones articles.) Read More >

Vilsack Supports Single Food Safety Agency

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

On Tuesday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he would like to see a single food safety agency as opposed to the current system where food safety for the millions of Americans is overseen by two separate agencies, the USDA and the FDA.  “We are the only industrial nation to have two systems,” said Secretary Vilsack, whose comments came in response to the recent peanut butter – salmonella outbreak, indicating that a single centralized agency in charge of protecting America’s food would be more successful in preventing food-borne illness.

In the current system, the FDA oversees the food safety for all domestic and imported food sold in interstate commerce, including shell eggs and bottled water, but not meat, poultry, or egg products.  The USDA oversees the food safety for all domestic and imported meat and poultry, and related products such as meat or poultry containing stews, pizzas, and frozen foods, along with processed egg products (as soon as the shell is broken, it becomes the USDA’s responsibility).  The total burden for food-borne illness is no small matter either, as every year it is estimated there are approximately 76 million food related illnesses, 323,000 hospitalizations, and 5,200 deaths.  Read More >