A new U.S. Department of Agriculture rule, effective October 20th, is intended to modernize some aspects of poultry inspection. However, as The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recommend in a new report, U.S. policymakers should begin a much broader, data-driven effort to update the laws that define USDA’s inspection authority.
“The federal meat and poultry inspection system remains bound by antiquated laws that do not address current foodborne hazards,” said Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at Pew. “USDA’s piecemeal approach to modernizing inspection underscores the need for policymakers to consider a more comprehensive update to these laws.”
The United States’ meat and poultry inspection system still operates much as it did a century ago, when it was created in response to the deplorable slaughterhouse conditions exposed in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle. This system focuses considerable resources on naked-eye examinations of animals just before and after slaughter, but relatively few on measures that can detect Salmonella, Listeria, and other invisible microbiological contaminants—the cause of most foodborne illnesses.
Data suggest that more than 2 million cases of foodborne disease in the United States each year are associated with meat and poultry consumption.1 The annual cost of these infections has been estimated at almost $7 billion.2 Even so, the actual number of cases and costs are likely much higher because most of those sickened never report their illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for every Salmonella infection reported to public health authorities, more than 29 other cases are not.
In recent years, rates of foodborne illness have risen or stayed the same for several of the pathogens of greatest concern in meat and poultry, according to the CDC. For example, the rate of Campylobacter infections was 13 percent higher in 2013 compared to 2006-2008.
The Pew and CSPI report, Meat and Poultry Inspection 2.0, compares the U.S. system with those used in five other countries, based on a survey of inspection authorities in each nation. Scientific reviews of inspection practices by the European Food Safety Authority are examined as well.
Among other findings, this analysis revealed that:
Based upon these findings, Pew and CSPI recommend that: