Washington, D.C., and its surrounding suburbs have become the home turf of a countless number of activist/special interest groups, and a few have come with criticisms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Services's (USDA FSIS) recently released Salmonella Action Plan. Two areas that these special interests have chosen to attack most strenuously are the call for full implementation of the proposed modernized poultry slaughter rule and the fact that the plan doesn't identify Salmonella as an adulterant.

Modernized slaughter rule

The proposed modernized poultry slaughter rule essentially shifts many of the online inspection duties from FSIS personnel to industry employees, freeing up USDA inspectors to perform offline tasks. The Hazard Inspection Models Project (HIMP) has served as an ongoing validation of the effectiveness of this approach. USDA FSIS inspectors are unionized, and some inspectors, as well union representatives, have been very critical of HIMP and now the proposed changes to the poultry slaughter rule. At least one activist groups has joined the inspector's union in opposition of HIMP-like inspection.

Wenonah Hauter, director, Food & Water Watch, said: "This flawed proposed rule cannot serve as the foundation of any serious plan to reduce Salmonella rates in meat and poultry products. To really tackle the Salmonella problem, USDA should not be trying to cut government inspection of poultry products. Instead, the Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce, not deregulate inspection.

"Instead of deregulating inspection, the agency needs to go to Congress and seek the legislative authority to fix the current legal loophole in the Federal Meat Inspection and Poultry Products Inspection Acts so that it can effectively regulate Salmonella as a foodborne pathogen."

Salmonella as an adulterant

Some advocacy groups have been calling for Salmonella on raw poultry products to be declared as an adulterant, and they criticized the Salmonella Action Plan for not taking this step. Sarah Klein, senior food safety attorney, Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI), said that the Salmonella Action Plan ignores the issue of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. CSPI has petitioned the agency to add antibiotic-resistant Salmonella as adulterants.

Klein also said that the FSIS should go further and test each poultry and beef plant weekly for Salmonella. "This would increase consumer protection, as it would give FSIS real-time data on plant performance and allow the agency to take prompt action if a plant veers off course," she said.