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 >

CBS Evening News Investigative Report Highlights Urgency for PAMTA Passage


I hope every lawmaker on Capitol Hill had a chance to watch CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric’s two-part investigative series on the risks of using antibiotics as growth promoters in food animals. After viewing both pieces it would be difficult for most people to question the immediate need to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). PAMTA would effectively end the practice of administering constant low doses of antibiotics important to human health in food animals in the hopes of reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases among the general public. As we mentioned Tuesday, the first installment of the series highlighted the connections between industrial food animal production and the growing number of antibiotic resistant infections across the country. Couric’s second installment dismantled several arguments which critics of PAMTA often use to dissuade passage. I’ll point out just two.

First, the report puts to rest the deceptive claims by PAMTA opponents who point to outdated data from Denmark that they say proves an antibiotic-ban in the U.S. would hurt farmers. Opponents allude that the Danish ban on non-therapeutic antibiotics in food animals was a failure, claiming the numbers show the ban increased the mortality of piglets and required the increase of therapeutic antibiotic usage to treat sick pigs. Couric’s second report opened in Denmark, focusing on the “Danish Experience.” Farmers and researchers there tell a much different story. Couric interviewed Danish hog farmer Soren Helmer, who said, “We thought we could not produce pigs as efficient as we did before. But that was proven wrong.” Couric reported, “since the ban the Danish pork industry has grown by 43 percent making it one of the top exporters in the world.”

As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, Danish scientists, from the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, Drs. Frank Møller Aarestrup and Henrik Wegener, submitted last July written testimony for a U.S. House Committees Rules hearing on PAMTA. They wrote, “As you may be aware, representatives of organizations funded by U.S. agri-business have criticized and mis-represented the facts on the Danish ban of antibiotics since its inception.” The scientists found that the total antibiotic use for pork decreased by 50% and that piglet deaths initially increased, but after improving animal living conditions those numbers have since dipped below pre-ban numbers. Read More >