Plant-based diet advocates known as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine failed to persuade USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service that it should require all meat to be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2.
The Washington D.C.-based lobbying organization petitioned FSIS on May 20 to require all meat and poultry establishments to test and report on a weekly bases the number of workers and the number of their family members with presumptive or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and those dying of COVID-19.
The petition also sought weekly posting of the number of FSIS inspectors with presumptive or confirmed SARS- CoV-2 infections and those dying of COVID- 19 on the USDA website. In addition, it wanted meat and poultry to carry a label stating: “Warning: Workers in the U.S. meat and poultry processing facilitates have been sickened or killed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and this product has not been certified virus-free.” It also wanted retails to post the warnings.
The FSIS, on July 1, sent the committee a letter denying the petition. The agency said public health and food safety experts have found no evidence to support the notion that COVID-19 is transmitted by meat or poultry products.
“We have conducted an expedited review and have decided to deny your petition,” FSIS said. “We have determined that neither the petition nor the addendum includes scientific studies or other information to demonstrate that COVID-19 can be transmitted to humans by meat or poultry products. In addition, some of the actions you are requesting are outside the scope of FSIS’s authority. The actions requested in your petition would not contribute to FSIS’s public health mission to ensure that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.”
The FSIS said the petition did not include any reference studies or supporting information to demonstrate that COVID-19 can be transmitted by meat and poultry products or any other food.
“The transmission study referenced in the petition focuses on common foodborne viruses, such as norovirus and Hepatitis A, that can be transmitted by infected food handlers if they practice poor personal hygiene,” the letter continues. “The study does not suggest that airborne viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, can be transmitted by meat or poultry products.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Public health and food safety experts have found no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with meat or poultry products or any other food. Although it may be possible that a person can contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus is spread. Therefore, based on information about the SARS-CoV-2 thus far, it seems unlikely…”
Other points FSIS makes in the decision letter include:
- Requiring that meat and poultry processing establishments test their products for SARS-CoV-2 would require that establishments use resources to conduct product testing that would serve no public health purpose. If the purpose is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we believe that establishment resources would be better spent by implementing measures in the CDC/OSHA guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among establishment workers. Therefore, we are denying this request.
- There is nothing in the Acts that give FSIS the authority to require regulated establishments to report information on the health status of establishment employees to public health authorities or that authorizes FSIS to make information related to the health status of Agency inspectors available to the public.
- Food facilities, including establishments under FSIS inspection, like other work establishments, need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, which may vary… In the event of a diagnosed COVID-19 illness, FSIS follows and encourages establishments to follow, the recommendations of local public health authorities regarding notification of potential contacts.
- The warning statement requested in your petition is misleading because it inaccurately implies that meat and poultry products that have not been “certified as virus-free” may transmit COVID-19 or are somehow unsafe. As discussed above, public health and food safety experts have found no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with meat or poultry products. Thus, we are denying your request to amend the safe handling labeling regulations because we believe the requested warning statement would cause meat and poultry products to be misbranded.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a non-profit research and advocacy organization for the promotion of a plant-based diet and preventative medicine. Previously it petitioned FSIS to declare feces an adulterant in meat. That request, too, was denied.
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