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May 24, 2002

USA: Government’s meat testing system riddled with “breakdowns” says consumer group

The federal government's main salmonella testing programme for meat is "riddled with systemic breakdowns" according to a new report by consumer advocacy groups, allowing "large quantities of potentially contaminated ground beef to land on supermarket shelves".

The federal government’s main salmonella testing programme for meat is “riddled with systemic breakdowns” according to a new report by consumer advocacy groups, allowing “large quantities of potentially contaminated ground beef to land on supermarket shelves”.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Public Citizen conducted a five-month investigation into US Department of Agriculture (USDA) records and claim to have discovered that many of the largest ground beef plants in the US “repeatedly flunked salmonella tests” and yet were permitted to continue sending ground beef stamped as government-approved to market.

The report, Hamburger Hell: The Flip Side of USDA’s Salmonella Testing Programme, concludes that the inspections, which began in 1998, are “implemented in a highly sporadic and inconsistent manner, and that USDA pronouncements about the programme’s success are not supported by data in the records”.

The report lists 77 plants in 26 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that failed at least one salmonella test “set,” which consists of a series of tests. Large plants that have failed are located in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. When considering plants of all sizes, the states with the most failing plants were Texas, with 19 failing plants, and California, with ten failing plants.

A copy of the report is available at: http://www.citizen.org/documents/salmonellareport.PDF.

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