Reaction to USDA E. coli Announcement Mixed

Some groups are behind new effort, others criticize move.

Published on: Sep 14, 2011

Several different points of view have been expressed following the USDA announcement of six additional E. coli serogroups being placed under zero tolerance policy and new testing being launched.

James Hodges, Executive Vice President of the American Meat Institute says that although the new policy is intended to benefit public health with limited costs, in the notice USDA acknowledged that they do not know how many illnesses will actually be prevented. It is not clear whether or not there will be a reduction in the number of illnesses. He is questioning the benefit and says it is not good public policy.

"USDA will spend millions of dollars testing for these strains instead of using those limited resources toward preventive strategies that are far more effective in ensuring food safety," Hodges said. "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." 

Meanwhile, Bo Reagan, National Cattlemen's Beef Association senior vice president of Research, Education and Innovation and chairman of the Beef Industry Food Safety Council, says the members of BIFSCo have long had a commitment to provide the foundation for producing a safe and wholesome food supply. The announcement is consistent with the industry's history and long-term efforts to continually improve. Safety is not a competitive issue.

"Because of the industry's knowledge and experience in addressing E. coli O157, we have a great foundation of science to move forward with this emerging pathogen, Reagan said."BIFSCo will gather together individuals from all sectors of the industry to determine concerns and questions with the proposal as well as to develop plans to implement the new testing requirements."

Several consumer groups have stepped forward in support of the move made by USDA. Carol Tucker-Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America calls the Obama Administration’s announcement that ground beef contaminated with any of six additional disease-causing strains of E. coli bacteria is adulterated and must be removed from the market may be the biggest change in meat and poultry safety in the last fifteen years.

David Theno, chairman of Gray Dog Partners, Inc., a food safety consulting firm, says the agency should be commended for their proactive approach to responding to an emerging problem without it becoming a national crisis.