U.S – Various consumer groups and businesses have implored the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack to modernize poultry safe regulation through science-based reforms.

Joining the consumer groups in penning the letter are also foodborne illness survivors, poultry industry leaders, academic scientists, and other food safety leaders. Participating companies include Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Butterball, and Wayne Farms, and participating groups include Centre for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Stop Foodborne Illness, and the Consumer Federation of America.

The letters sought USDA to implement new poultry food safety standards because the current methods are “broken.”

The letter explained that while progress on plummeting foodborne illness has been at a standstill, scientific knowledge of Salmonella has greatly increased and recognized best practices for Campylobacter and other pathogens have advanced.

Science reveals that current performance standards do not effectively target the particular types of Salmonella and the levels of bacteria that pose the greatest risks of illness, and the overall regulatory framework does not adequately harness modern tools for preventing and verifying control of the bacteria that are making people sick.

The letter also asks for poultry food safety standards that are “objective, risk-based, achievable, enforceable, and flexible” enough to adapt to science, which is constantly evolving.

Foodborne pathogens in poultry

Foodborne pathogens remain a significant threat to public health in the United States, sickening millions of Americans annually. Salmonella and Campylobacter, which are commonly found in poultry, account for over 70% of all foodborne illnesses tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Annually, these two pathogens cause approximately 3 million illnesses in the U.S. and cost over 6 billion dollars.

In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) included foodborne illness reduction in its Healthy People 2020 national public health goals, setting targets for lower Salmonella and Campylobacter illness rates.  Unfortunately, these target rates were not met.  Rather, recent surveillance data indicate that the rates did not decrease from 2010 to the present and have been persistently high for the last 20 years. 

Last year, HHS released the Healthy People 2030 goals and again included both Salmonella and Campylobacter illness rate targets, but they are essentially the same as in the 2020 goals. The letter called for a better approach to meet these goals. 

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