Statement on USDAs Proposed Rule on Listeria|
Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a regulation to address the deadly Listeria bacteria in ready-to-eat meat products. This hazard was responsible for 21 deaths and 100 illnesses in an outbreak linked to hot dogs and deli meats produced by Sara Lees Bil Mar plant in Michigan two years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Listeria causes 2300 hospitalizations and 500 deaths per year.
USDAs proposed rule represents a vast improvement over the current system. Today, processors of ready-to-eat meat products are not required to test either their plants or their products for Listeria. If they test voluntarily, they are under no obligation to share their test results with government regulators, even if their products are linked to an outbreak. Under the proposed rule, every plant that processes hot dogs and deli meats will have to do some testing to ensure that they are controlling Listeria.
Testing for potentially deadly bacteria in food processors and products is not radical, it is just common sense. The Bush Administration should expedite finalization of this rule, which has been in development for two years. Two years was too long for consumers to wait for a proposal to address an urgent public health issue, but the USDA was burdened by a cost-benefit review process that duplicates reviews already done at the Office of Management and Budget. Congress should streamline the regulatory review process, which has endangered the publics health by delaying needed regulations like this one.