The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a citizen petition “requesting that the administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) . . . issue an interpretive rule declaring certain delineated strains of antibiotic-resistant [ABR] Salmonella, when found in ground meat and ground poultry, to be adulterants” under federal law. In re: CSPI Petition, No. n/a (USDA FSIS, filed May 25, 2011). Noting that FSIS declared E. coli an adulterant in 1994, the petition contends, “Scientific and medical research demonstrates that contamination of meat and poultry by ABR strains of Salmonella poses grave public health dangers that are comparable to those posed by E. coli 0157:H7 in 1994.”

According to the petition, several ABR strains in ground meat and poultry products have resulted in recalls, outbreaks and deaths. Seeking expedited review, CSPI claims that 36 documented outbreaks, causing thousands of illnesses and some deaths, were linked to ABR bacteria since the 1970s, and 39 percent occurred in FSIS-regulated meat and poultry products. The organization also claims that “[a]n antibiotic-resistance pattern was reported for 25 of those 36 outbreaks.” The petition cites studies that found ABR bacteria in some 20 percent of ground meat products purchased from supermarkets. CSPI argues that ABR Salmonella is an “added substance” under federal law because it “occurs due to an act of humans: the use of antibiotics on farms or feedlots.”

This petition’s filing coincides with a lawsuit filed the same day against the Food and Drug Administration by a coalition of organizations, including CSPI, calling for that agency to withdraw its approval for most non-therapeutic uses of two antibiotics in animal feed. The other action is summarized elsewhere in this Update.