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Listeria Outbreak Rattles USDA

posted on October 18, 2002

Under the radar, but probably a source of more controversy in the future is the revelation by the USDA that federal officials failed to prevent a simulated outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The mock bioterrorist attack was the first in a series of six exercises to test how effective USDA and other federal agencies would be in responding to an attack on the nation's agriculture system.

The significance of the simulated stumble certainly wasn't lost this week on critics of the USDA. A number of consumer advocacy groups this week were taking the agency to task for how it has handled the most recent outbreak of food borne illness.


Listeria Outbreak Rattles USDA

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Turkey Deli meat from a Wampler facility in Franconia, Penn., is most likely the source of a Listeria outbreak in the Northeast that killed seven people and injured 36.

Now an advocacy group, 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, STOP: "Mr. President, your administration inherited a new regulation that could have quite possibly prevented this latest food borne illness outbreak and dozens more deaths – had it been implemented."

S.T.O.P. officials claim the government isn't doing its job of protecting the American people from food-borne illnesses.

And they say the Bush Administration has delayed action on proposed rule requiring companies to test their products for Listeria.

Rosenbaum: "Instead your Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman and her Undersecretary for Food Safety, Elsa Murano have stalled it citing the need for another risk assessment before implementing it, which could take years."

According to another advocacy group, the Food Policy Institute, the proposed rule on controlling Listeria in ready-to-eat products was completed at the end of the Clinton Administration. The Bush Administration put the proposal on hold in January of 2001 and opened it for public comment until May of 2001. In the 18 months since, Institute officials claim nothing has happened with the proposed regulations.

Claiming that 5,000 people lose their lives annually due to consumption of foods tainted with potentially lethal pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, S.T.O.P. officials called on President Bush to declare war on food borne illness.

Rosenbaum: "President Bush, your administration has now presided over two of the largest three contaminated meat recalls in history. Surely this is not what you meant by "homeland security."


Tags: agriculture chickens diseases food safety news poultry salmonella USDA