House Democrats are outraged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not shutting down three California facilities responsible for a Salmonella outbreak resulting from contaminated chicken. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) update, the outbreak has spread to twenty states and Puerto Rico.
In a statement on Friday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) criticized the USDA for refusing to close the plants responsible for the public health threat, calling the decision to allow the facilities to stay open “outrageous.” DeLauro was joined by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in her harsh criticism of the USDA’s lack of initiative in the most recent Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak.
“The USDA’s toothless decisions endangers public health today and encourages bad actors in the food industry to continue to break the law tomorrow,” Slaughter said in a statement on Friday. “The American people need a regulatory agency that works for them and not the food industry.”
On Thursday, Foster Farms, the owner of the three plants, announced that the USDA would not be closing its facilities. The company’s president Ron Foster issued a statement saying it was “putting every resource and all of our energy toward food safety with the confidence that Foster Farms plants will be the most stringent in the industry,” The Hill reports.
The CDC states that officials have confirmed 317 cases of Salmonella poisoning, including 39 new cases from nine states and Puerto Rico. More than forty percent of those sickened by the contaminated chicken products have been hospitalized, about twice the usual rate. According to the CDC, the strains of Salmonella Heidelberg in the Foster Farms outbreak are resistant to multiple commonly-prescribed antibiotics.
In September, the USDA found that 25 percent of Foster Farms chicken sampled tested positive for Salmonella. In a letter to Foster Farms, the USDA said that, prior to the outbreak, inspectors documented “fecal material on carcasses” and “poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product contamination,” according to the Associated Press.
Still, the USDA did not force a recall of any Foster Farms products, despite stating that the conditions at their facilities “could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health.”
Foodborne illnesses affect 1 in 6, or 48 million, Americans yearly, resulting in over 3,000 deaths and over 100,000 hospitalizations. According to the CDC, 2012 data showed a “lack of recent progress in reducing foodborne infections and highlight[ed] the need for improved prevention.” CDC data identified 19,531 cases of foodborne infection last year.
The U.S. food industry has become a public health nightmare due to a variety of factors, including a lack of FDA inspections, inspections being contracted to private, industry-backed inspectors, unsafe, inhumane, and unhygienic food processing practices, and a lack of public interest in addressing these issues.
According to Truthout, Americans are 110 times more likely to die from contaminated food than from terrorism, yet most Americans are not advocating strict reform in the food industry. On top of a disproportionate focus on food dangers in the U.S., the agribusiness is attempting to conceal its bad practices with the implementation of “ag-gag” bills. Such anti-whistleblower bills criminalize anyone who reports bad practices on factory farms.
“It is outrageous that, having already not recalled any Foster Farms products, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is allowing the company to keep its plants open just days after detailing facility conditions that are clearly a threat to the public health,” Rep. DeLauro said on Friday.