Illustrating the impact food recalls have on public opinion and, potentially, legislation, consumer group Food & Water Watch issued a news release within hours of today’s recall of ground beef from a California plant.

The release, titled “Latest beef recall confirms USDA must fix flawed salmonella testing program to protect consumers,” includes a statement from the group’s executive director Wenonah Hauter. She calls for increased testing, and takes the opportunity to attack antibiotic use in agriculture, claiming “these drugs are too important to human medicine to be wasted by agribusiness.”

“Today’s announcement by Beef Packers, Inc. that it is recalling over 800,000 pounds of ground beef due to Salmonella contamination is a vivid reminder of the consequences of gaping holes in our food safety system.  The recall was triggered by a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigation into illnesses reported in Colorado that found ground beef distributed in Arizona, California, Colorado and Utah was linked to the strain of Salmonella making people ill.

“This recall follows July’s large ground beef recall in Colorado for a different strain of Salmonella that is resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat the illness in humans.  A study done earlier this year by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service revealed that the rate of Salmonella in meat packing plants was higher than the rate estimated by the meat inspection division of USDA, Another study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2002 said that one antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella had reached the ‘epidemic’ level.

“We have been questioning USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about its Salmonella testing program for years, and it is past time for the agency to update its program.  FSIS should:

  • Substantially increase the amount of Salmonella testing it does for all meat and poultry products.
  • Establish testing programs for antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella and other pathogens.
  • Coordinate with the Agricultural Research Service, Food and Drug Administration, and CDC to ensure that new information about the threat of antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogens are incorporated into their inspection program.
  • “Waiting for people to get sick is not an acceptable way to find out that a plant is sending out a contaminated product.  USDA must increase its testing for Salmonella, including antibiotic-resistant strains, and act swiftly when it finds positive results.

“In addition, Congress should rein in the routine overuse of antibiotics by industrialized livestock operations trying to compensate for the crowded conditions in which animals are raised.  These drugs are too important to human medicine to be wasted by agribusiness.”

Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization based in Washington, D.C., works to ensure clean water and safe food in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit The organization's Web site.