A few days ago, Food Safety News reporter James Andrews wrote this about the contents of a just released FSIS base line study: "For all varieties of pathogens tested, the rate of contamination dramatically fell after the animal and been slaughtered and bacterial kill-step interventions had taken place."
FSIS researchers found 25.5 percent of beef carcasses contaminated with pathogenic bacteria before interventions and just 3.9 percent afterwards. Even better news was the near eradication of E. coli O157:H7. The bacteria was found on only 1.6 percent of carcasses before intervention and less than 1.1 percent afterwards.
The great work done by the industry, pushed by government funding, to make our meat supply significantly safer during the past quarter century? Don't stand and applaud yet. That same issue of Food Safety News featured a report by Lydia Zuraw headlined, "Food Safety Plays Minimal Role in House Appropriations Markup." Instead, nutrition policies, the Food for Peace program and FDA pre-market review of e-cigarettes were the major topics of discussion.
With the industry standing very close to putting an almost pathogen-free product into commerce and it's time to make that last and most difficult sprint to the finish line, are the feds going to walk away? Do they intend to take down the tape or just move it another few hundred yards down the road?
What the Appropriations Committee could be ignoring is the harm done by additional strains of the pathogen. In 2012, with the O157 E. coli strain nearly down for the count, the FSIS added six more strains to its list of adulterants in ground beef. Labeled 'The Big 6," they were found on slightly more than 8. percent of pre-intervention carcasses and nearly 2 percent after interventions and they were responsible for at least as many illnesses and deaths as O157.
Their short-term, save-a-few-bucks-today view overlooks the virulent last strains of an almost undetectable cancer on America's food supply. The industry has worked long and hard to rid itself of the disease, undergoing several painful major surgeries to achieve its current level of success. Now that an 'all clear' might be just over the horizon - note that it will probably always be just a tiny bit out of reach - the funding for continued research and the pressure to find more and better interventions is critical.
To reduce the funding, or, worse, defund the effort, is like a long term cancer patient calling his oncologist and saying, "I'm cancelling my next checkup. I feel good, now, so I'm sure I don't need any follow up visits."
It's important to not do what government entities too often do - get within sight of a win, dust itself off, and leave before the victory lap.