Two important, linked publications are out today, both carrying the same message: The way we raise poultry in this country is creating an under-appreciated health hazard, and the government structures we depend upon to detect that hazard and protect us from it are failing us.
The two pubs are:
- A long piece that will be in the Feb. 2014 edition of Consumer Reports but has been placed online today.
- A companion report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, addressing some of the systemic problems raised by the Consumer Reports story.
Short version: Independent tests show that multi-drug resistant disease-causing bacteria are widely present on chicken, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has insufficient personnel, or legal authority, to change that.
Both these assertions are important, because foodborne illness, and especially drug-resistant foodborne illness, are also under-appreciated — for how serious the disease can be, and how long-lasting the after-effects are. (For more on those: Here’s a piece I wrote for The Atlantic about how drug-resistant bacteria on chicken are causing an epidemic of urinary tract infections, and one for Scientific American about the lifelong cost of foodborne illness.)
It’s worth emphasizing also that we are right now in the middle of an outbreak of Salmonella on chicken that has been going on for about a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted an update just this morning: 416 people since since last February, in 23 states and Puerto Rico, 39 percent of them hospitalized, linked to a single producer’s brand of chicken.