While some media outlets were asking good questions about why it took the federal government so long to release such vital information (problems began in March), others reported that it's currently legal to sell Salmonella-tainted meat.
While the meat industry might like it that way, that's not the entire story. For example, the Associated Press reported incorrectly: "Because salmonella is so common in poultry, it is not illegal for meat to be tainted with the pathogen." And the New York Times reported that "it is not illegal to sell meat contaminated with Salmonella" but didn't go into any detail.
Over at Wired, outbreak expert Maryn McKenna wrote a very good article , "Resistant Salmonella: Deadly Yet Somehow Not Illegal" that described the importance of the federal government declaring a bug such as Salmonella an "adulterant" - the legal term for a substance that is unsafe, making the food illegal to sell: "Declaring an organism an adulterant doesn't only make it illegal for food producers to distribute. It also imposes a duty on federal food-safety agencies to detect its presence in food so as to prevent its distribution."
This explains why the meat industry hates the very idea of having its products declared adulterated, and why it's done everything it can to stop the federal government from doing so. That part of the story the media left out.
What Can't USDA Just Follow the Law?
Back in 1994, in the wake of the Jack in the Box outbreak, USDA showed some backbone by declaring the 0157:H7 strain of E. coli an adulterant, thus putting into motion mandatory testing, which has likely saved countless lives.
While that was certainly the right thing to do at the time, it now seems an unintended consequence was to set up the expectation that each bug must be declared an adulterant one at a time. But this cannot be what Congress intended when it drafted the inspection laws that USDA operates under. Indeed, the plain language of the two relevant statutes suggests otherwise.
Both the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act define meat or poultry as adulterated "if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health." Sounds pretty straightforward: Salmonella a poisonous substance? Check. Salmonella injurious to health? Check again. But somehow in the tangled web of Washington D.C. clearly written laws with are never that simple. Enter meat industry lawyers.
Aporte: Carola Bernales