Government Shutdown is Urgent Public Health Issue

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

October 10, 2013

This government shut down is an urgent public health issue. Just yesterday CSPI was contacted by a mother in the hospital with her 1-year-old son, who is suffering from a severe invasive infection from Salmonella. The chicken he ate was fed to him at his daycare. His story is heartbreaking, and it is only one of many that will come out of this outbreak.

Every day when government inspectors go to work, they are helping to prevent the next outbreak. Federal laboratories are working to catch the hazards before they catch us. When problems do escape, the epidemiologists at CDC are trained to sift through volumes of information coming in from states for the clues about the common food source. Rapid identification of contaminated food is critical to preventing the next person from getting sick.

Consumers simply can’t afford to have this shutdown continue, and if another outbreak occurs, it could be blood on the hands of those keeping the government shut.

In 2011, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned to have antibiotic-resistant forms of Salmonella declared adulterants. If USDA had acted, it could now ask companies like Foster Farms to recall meat on the basis of a simple test, rather than needing the direct link between an ill consumer and a package of meat. If USDA had already approved the CSPI petition, it might have prevented that contaminated chicken from every getting on the market. Make no mistake: this outbreak was preventable.

The antibiotic-resistant strains are causing nearly double the rate of hospitalizations as well as severe blood infections normally associated with pathogens more virulent than Salmonella. Government tests showed that the Salmonella strains causing this outbreak are resistant to many common antibiotics, including tetracyclines, penicillins, sulfonamides, and aminoglycosides. That means that these important medicines are not as effective as they used to be for treating these infections. PAMTA – the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act – would prevent overuse of these important antibiotics in food animals. It would rein in use of these medicines in food animals that aren’t sick so they can be preserved for patients.

USDA can still take action. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is simply too hot to handle in consumers’ kitchens. If Foster Farms won’t recall its potentially tainted chickens from the market voluntarily, the USDA immediately should order the company to do so.

This outbreak provides strong evidence that consumers need their government back at work—gathering, analyzing, and sharing the vital information consumers need to protect their families from harm.

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Note: CSPI will be participating in a news conference at 1:30pm with Representatives Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) at the Rayburn House Office Building Room 2103


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