No, that wasn’t a typo. Today I came across this petition for rulemaking to FSIS from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
First off: PCRM has some great programs that promote research, animal welfare, and better medicine. The overall merit of their organization cannot be judged by a single program or campaign they have in place.
Now let’s tear this petition apart, because I actually had to check their website to make sure it was real, and not an over-the-top satire from The Onion.
The concern the committee wishes to correct via this petition is thus:
“Inconsistent with its statutory mandate, USDA regularly passes at inspection meat and poultry that is contaminated with feces. Although USDA implements a “zero tolerance” policy for fecal contamination, this policy applies to visible fecal contamination only. The result is that fecally contaminated meat and poultry products pass inspection as long as the feces on them are not “visible” to the naked eye.
Not to quote without context, the petition goes on to list the ways in which non-obvious feces may be introduced to meat product, the most valid being shared scald/chill tanks in processing operations.
Ultimately, the corrections the committee is seeking are removal of the “wholesome” description from USDA inspected meats, begin treating feces as an adulterant, and:
That’s some pretty heavy language, perfectly stated to play on the fears and squeamishness of your average consumer. However, I see nothing written there about food safety, so the intention of the change is obvious: prevent people from eating meat.
While the about page for PCRM mentions nothing about being proponents of animal rights, the amount of articles devoted to encouraging a purely vegan diet clearly shows that they have an anti-meat agenda. While they correctly advertize the health benefits of vegan foods, a quick search of their website saturates any visitor with the message “meat is bad, and animal agriculture is always cruel”.
The petition shines a light on a group that is ready to intentionally scare and mislead consumers into changing their lifestyle. As part of their justification that feces is everywhere, they cite one of their own studies, “Fecal Contamination in Retail Chicken Products“. In this study, the committee proved that invisible fecal contamination is everywhere by “testing for the presence of feces.”
No such test exists.
What they actually did was test for generic E. coli, which can act as an indicator organism for fecal contamination. HACCP programs in slaughter facilities use on-line enumeration of E. coli and other coliforms to validate critical control points for just that purpose. But in this case, rather than setting limits and using a statistical rationale to make a conclusion about the level of contamination, it appears that any evidence of the presence of E. coli led to the determination that the sample was contaminated with feces. Because there are no methods declared, this evidence could be as mundane as RNA fragments from a non-pathogenic strain recovered in an enriched sample.
The study is absolutely meaningless. There is no available data to review in terms of the levels of contamination, no methods listed for how the E. coli was enumerated, and finally no legitimate publication, suggesting that the construction of the study and its conclusions would not have passed peer review.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2013). Re: Fecal Contamination of Poultry and Meat USDA Petition for Rulemaking
I’m a vegetarian but that’s just ridiculous. Good post.