The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, calling on the agency to take steps to keep four, antibiotic-resistant, salmonella strains out of the food supply.
The move came on the same day the nonprofit and other groups sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over alleged overuse of antibiotics in animal feed.
The CSPI said that since the salmonella strains are resistant to antibiotics, consumers who develop infections from those strains have a harder time recovering.
"The only thing worse than getting sick from food is being told that no drugs exist to treat your illness," CSPI food safety staff attorney Sarah Klein said in a statement. "And that's what more consumers will hear if these drug-resistant pathogens keep getting into our meat."The petition asked for four salmonella strains -- salmonella heidelberg, newport, hadar and typhimurium -- to be declared adulterants, making products that contain the bacteria illegal to sell under federal law. This is a move the USDA has made before: In 1994, the USDA declared e.coli 0157:H7 an adulterant.
The petition also called on the USDA to put testing programs in place for ground meat like it did for e.coli. Ground meat products are more susceptible to contamination because the products contain meat from a number of animals, which spreads contaminants among the products.
"We need the USDA to act before we see more outbreaks," Klein said at a media conference announcing the petition.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service could not be reached for comment on the petition.
The salmonella hadar strain -- commonly associated with poultry -- was the cause of an outbreak earlier this year that sickened 12 people in 10 states. That outbreak was linked to turkey burgers, prompting Jennie-O Turkey Store to recall 54,960 pounds of ground turkey burgers.
Another strain -- salmonella typhimurium -- has sickened 216 people in 41 states in an outbreak linked to African dwarf frogs that are kept as aquarium pets.
The USDA petition was filed the same day the CSPI and other health and consumer groups sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, claiming the agency hasn't met its responsibility to respond to alleged overuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Joining the CSPI in bringing the suit was the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Accumulating evidence shows that antibiotics are becoming less effective, while our grocery store meat is increasingly laden with drug-resistant bacteria," Natural Resources Defense Council Executive Director Peter Lehner said in a statement. "The FDA needs to put the American people first by ensuring that antibiotics continue to serve their primary purpose -- saving human lives by combating disease."
The lawsuit seeks to make the FDA respond to petitions seeking to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock but wouldn't affect using such medicines to treat sick animals.
The FDA itself announced May 26 that it is seeking public input into preventive controls for food plants as part of the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The new law requires registered food and feed plants to evaluate the food safety hazards that could affect the products they make, pack or hold, and implement preventive controls.
Consumers can submit comments online until August 22, 2011.
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