Lawmakers Push Two Food Safety Bills After FRONTLINE Investigation

May 13, 2015
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by Priyanka Boghani Digital Reporter

Lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced two separate food safety bills on Wednesday in the wake of FRONTLINE’s investigation into the food safety system, The Trouble with Chicken.

The “Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act,” from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would strengthen authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recall contaminated meat and poultry.

Currently, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which operates under the umbrella of the USDA, can only require a recall if meat or poultry contains a contaminant or pathogen that the agency already bans — for example, E.coli 0157.

Gillibrand’s bill would give the FSIS broader authority to require a recall if a company’s product was known to be contaminated and it refused to comply with an initial request.

“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”

In addition to giving the USDA – and by extension the FSIS – mandatory recall authority, Gillibrand’s bill would encourage retailers to notify customers if products they bought had been recalled via shopper or rewards cards. The bill would also create “Recall Summary Notices” to be displayed in stores, so customers could see what had been recalled.

Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who appears in The Trouble with Chicken, and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), put forward the “Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act,” which would address another weakness in the federal food safety system.

FRONTLINE’s investigation revealed how a dangerous strain of salmonella, called salmonella Heidelberg, made more than 600 people ill during an outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that lasted from March 2013 to July 2014. However, salmonella in poultry is not banned by the FSIS, and one in four pieces of chicken carry the bacteria, according to the agency’s own sampling.

DeLauro and Slaughter’s legislation would require the USDA to recall any meat, poultry or egg product that contained bacteria or viruses that could cause serious illness or death, or any that were resistant to antibiotics.

“The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion,” DeLauro and Slaughter said in a statement. They first introduced this legislation in the aftermath of the Foster Farms outbreak.

If you missed FRONTLINE’s The Trouble With Chicken, watch the film below.

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