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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

It is time for the American Meat Institute (AMI) to put consumer safety first

It is good for AMI members too.

FSIS-ground-beef.jpgBeginning March 5, 2012, after years of discussion, Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) finally intends to do sampling and testing of manufacturing trim and other raw ground beef products, to ensure control of both E. coli O157:H7 and six other serotypess of STEC E. coli (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145) – a.k.a. “The Big Six.”

FSIS has determined after years of research, that along with E. coli O157:H7, these six serotypes are adulterants in non-intact raw beef products and trim within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The import of a finding that these serotypes of STEC’s are adulterants is, if FSIS or a manufacturer finds any of those serogroups in these types of products, it will prohibit the product from entering commerce – consumers will not eat it.

FSIS further found that like E. coli O157:H7, these serotypes cause severe illness and even death, and that young children and the elderly are at highest risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also identified these serotypes as responsible for the greatest numbers of non-O157 STEC illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States.

According to FSIS, manufacturers can rely upon the FSIS laboratory methodology released in October and updated on November 4, 2011, which has been demonstrated to reliably identify these pathogens, or they can use an equivalent methodology of their choice.

The AMI has called on FSIS to delay the implementation of testing “The Big Six,” and to not even deem these serotypes adulterants. AMI claims the costs of implementation is too high, that the testing is not yet accurate enough to prevent false positives, and, that not enough people seem to be getting sick – yet. AMI made these same arguments, and others, in 1994 when it unsuccessfully sued FSIS to stop the listing of E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant. AMI was wrong then and it is wrong now.

AMI has never embraced that fact that getting all pathogenic E. coli out of our meat supply is good for consumers and good for AMI members. Fact – from 1993-2002 100’s of the millions were paid by meat companies to E. coli O157:H7 victims, mainly children. It took a decade for the entire industry to step up, but E. coli O157:H7 cases linked to hamburger are a small part of what we do because the industry met my challenge to “put me out of business.” Banning “The Big Six” will benefit consumers and AMI members.

AMI, just because you can argue about something does not mean you should. It is time to put the safety of consumers, and the good of your members, ahead of the arguing about anything that in your mind justifies your existence.

  • Jeff Almer

    The individuals at the American Meat Institute that argue this again don’t give a damn about you or I but just the green in our wallet. I liken their thinking to the people who think “not me” when it comes to contracting cancer or getting into a car accident when they drive carelessly.
    While I don’t wish harm on anyone, I would like to see the attitude of the greedy execs change after watching their loved ones harmed or possibly killed by contaminated food.
    Merry Christmas AMI–we all know what your “Peace On Earth is all about. It’s getting your piece of our incomes for your selfish benefit.

  • Thanks for your always provocative blog, Bill. But clearly, we are not alone in our view that this policy lacks scientific underpinnings and will not achieve its promises. Let me just refresh your memory on USDA’s own words in its risk profile and in its September notice. Scientific experts included in the risk profile wrote:
    –“We found no consensus in the scientific community about precisely which features, or virulence factors, make an STEC harmful to humans.”
    –“…due to lack of baseline data, we cannot make definitive quantitative statements about the national prevalence or the likelihood that pathogenic STEC serogroups may be found in either cattle or ground beef.”
    Similarly, the final determination published in the Federal Register by FSIS raises questions about the new policy:
    –“As we have stated, control for E. coli O157:H7 already in place should be as effective in controlling non-O157 STEC as in controlling E. coli O157:H7.”
    –“We note that the illnesses associated with these strains have not primarily been due to contamination on beef.”
    –“It is not clear whether on net there will be a reduction in the number of illnesses.”
    If a USDA action could make the beef supply safer, we’d be leading the charge as we have in many cases, like the battle to get technologies approved more quickly. But when a policy makes promises it cannot achieve and diverts money that could be better spent in USDA’s research division finding real solutions that can deliver real results, we will call it out because whether you choose to believe it or not, food safety IS our #1 priority.

  • John Munsell

    A precise definition of what constitutes “Minimally Acceptable Lab Protocol for E.coli O157:H7”, and now to include the Big Six, remains a moving target, revealing the non-scientific basis for FSIS oversight of the industry.
    Two years ago, FSIS inspectors were issuing NR’s to downstream further processing plants for their alleged non-compliance with FSIS-mandated minimum lab testing protocol when testing for O157:H7. So, I requested a copy of agency requirements from the manager of the FSIS Minneapolis District Office, which of course was unable to provide me such data. I explained to the Minneapolis Office that once plants knew what the minimum requirements were, we would gladly comply.
    In 2009, when the Deputy District Manager of the Minneapolis Office visited a meat plant in Butte, Montana, accompanied by the agency’s Front Line Supervisor as well as the plant inspector, the plant owner requested such information. Not surprisingly, none of the FSIS officials was willing to provide the information. Nor have they since. Before this 3-man team entered the Butte plant, the plant inspector was emphatically forbidden by the other 2 members of the agency team to assist the plant owner in any way to resolve this problem.
    Therefore, FSIS retains the right to initiate enforcement actions against plants which don’t comply with non-existing regulations. Pretty nifty system, eh?
    If FSIS is unwilling to publish ALL its minimally-acceptable lab protocol to the industry for E.coli O157:H7 as well as the Big Six, AMI would be partially justified in its opposition to the FSIS mandate for testing. FSIS should proactively publish all such minimally-accepted lab protocol, and provide the data to every District Office, especially to the Minneapolis District Office. Then, the District Offices would be well-advised to disseminate it to all of its inspectors as well as to all establishments in their District. Cost would be minimal, as it can be emailed.
    We must remember that although FSIS hq’s in DC issues public statements which piously portray the agency as being America’s premier public health authority, the agency has a habit of not empowering its field force with pertinent information required to properly oversee the industry. Likewise, this lack of information also imperils meat establishments which desire to be fully compliant, but compliant with what? Only FSIS knows.
    John Munsell

  • Sam

    Thank you Mr. Hodges for your tired old list of meat industry bullet points. So, “due to lack of baseline data”, you honestly believe we should NOT establish baseline data through testing? It’s exactly this kind of specious reasoning that will get the meat industry in trouble again. Your “argument” is just plain ignorant when you look at the potential for harm. Read the book “Poisoned”, and report back. I DARE you!
    No amount of money could entice this food scientist to work in the meat industry; I would rather work in the oil industry, or sell swampland in Florida. Or become a politician!