Iowa Public Television


USDA Meat Safety Oversight Questioned

posted on November 15, 2002

Statistically, the economy continues to expand, but economists nearly need to pound stakes to gauge the glacial movement. Retail sales remained flat for October, Industrial production fell sharply, while inflation at the producer level made its biggest jump in two years.

Investors already shaken by corporate accounting scandals and concerns over the potential of a war, hardly rushed to Wall Street. Indeed the gloomy status of the economy compounds fears that mounting government deficits will lead to more government borrowing that will crowd into capital markets and exacerbate the economy's problems.

Not helping the public mood are mounting concerns about the government's ability to ensure the safety of the nation's meat supply. Indeed for all the talk about homeland security, the government seems to be dragging its feet on addressing a genuine threat.


USDA Meat Safety Oversight Questioned

Last month, Pilgrim's Pride, the nation's second largest poultry processor recalled more than 27 million pounds of fresh and frozen, ready-to-eat turkey and chicken products. The meat was sold under the Wampler Foods label and the fear was that may have been contaminated with Listeria. It was the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Listeria is a bacterium that can cause severe illness and stillbirths. Listeriosis can be fatal. Pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable to the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC in Atlanta, blamed the Wampler facility in Franconia, Pennsylvania for an outbreak of Listeriosis that killed seven people earlier this year.

But earlier this month, the CDC said a "genetically indistinguishable" strain of listeria had been discovered in deli meat produced at J.L. Foods in Camden, New Jersey. J.L. Foods announced its own recall of 200,000 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and turkey products.

The Agriculture Department has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of the recalls.

Five U.S. Representatives are calling on USDA to provide additional details on the closing of the Wampler Foods plant.

The lawmakers also want the Agriculture Department to justify a delay in implementation of new standards which may help prevent production and distribution of Listeria-contaminated meat products.

USDA is also under fire from several consumer advocacy groups.

One of the groups, called "Safe Tables Our Priority," or S.T.O.P., claims the illnesses and deaths might have been avoided if the Bush Administration had approved Listeria testing regulations initially drafted during the Clinton Administration.

Donna Rosenbaum (Co-Founder of S.T.O.P.): "5,000 people lose their lives each year to foodborne illnesses like E. coli 0157: H7, Salmonella and Listeria. All of these deaths result from the unforgivable pollution of our food between field and fork. Almost all could have, and should have been prevented."

Nevertheless, both the Wampler plant in Pennsylvania and the J.L. Foods plant in New Jersey were given a clean bill of health this week and both operations are now back in business.


Tags: agriculture chickens diseases food safety meat news poultry salmonella USDA