Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today called on the Department of Agriculture to develop food safety standards that will significantly reduce the levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken and turkey products.

“We write to urge you to develop strong performance standards for poultry products that will significantly reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths,” the senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We are very concerned about the current levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter on poultry products, and believe new pathogen standards should reduce these rates of contamination.”

The senators note that several studies have indicated startlingly high rates of the two bacteria in grocery store chicken. One study found 47 percent of chicken breasts tested positive for Campylobacter, another found over 40 percent of ground chicken tested positive for Salmonella. A Department of Agriculture study also found contamination of poultry parts at levels over 20 percent.

 

Full text of the letter follows:

April 16, 2014

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

We write to urge you to develop strong performance standards for poultry products that will significantly reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths. It is our view that you must address both Salmonella and Campylobacter in these standards. We are encouraged to hear that your Department will publish a new Salmonella standard for poultry parts before the end of September and for ground poultry products by the end of the 2014. However, we are deeply discouraged to learn that your Department has no timeline for when it will establish Campylobacter standards for these products.

It is critical that new performance standards are set at a level that will reduce the number of illnesses and deaths attributed to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that these two pathogens cause nearly two million illnesses, 27,500 hospitalizations, and over 450 deaths each year. What is even more troubling is that the CDC reports that our food safety system has not reduced the number of illnesses caused by Salmonella since 2000. Furthermore, the CDC reports that as of 2012, Campylobacter illnesses have increased by 14% compared with the baseline number of annual illnesses that occurred between 2007 and 2008.

We are very concerned about the current levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter on poultry products, and believe new pathogen standards should reduce these rates of contamination. Testing by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System between 2002 and 2011 found that 47 percent of chicken breasts in grocery stores tested positive for Campylobacter. Routine testing by your Department in 2013 found that over 40 percent of ground chicken tested positive for Salmonella. A study completed by your Department in 2012 also found that 26 percent of poultry parts tested positive for Salmonella and that 21 percent tested positive for Campylobacter.

We deeply appreciate the hard work of your Department on this important public health matter, and we look forward to your response.


Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein, United States Senator
Dick Durbin, United States Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator

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