- While meat can be contaminated at the slaughterhouse or by poor handling, a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts also identified strategies to prevent contamination from occurring on the farm.
- The study recommends producers use pre-harvest interventions as part of their health management program, provide adequate biosecurity at meat and poultry facilities and work toward more upstream levels of pathogen eradication programs. Funding agencies should provide money for research on vaccination, field trials and determining best practices. And federal agencies should offer incentives for successful intervention strategies, improving regulatory approval processes and coordinate collaboration between stakeholders to increase availability and use of interventions.
- “An effective food safety system includes measures to prevent contamination at every step along the meat and poultry supply chain,” Sandra Eskin, director of Pew’s safe food project, said in a written statement. “More can and should be done on farms and feedlots.”
According to data cited in the report, contaminated meat and poultry causes about 2 million illnesses in the U.S. each year, adding up to about 40% of all bacterial foodborne illnesses. It makes sense for producers, regulators and funders to work together to try to decrease these numbers through any means possible.
While there are regulations for slaughter and the supply chain, highlighting ways to improve animal health while still on the farm is important. Livestock diseases such as avian influenza and mad cow disease can wreak havoc on producers, especially because they are easily spread and animals don't always show overt signs of illness. Infection that could make animals more susceptible to bacteria causing foodborne illness could be similarly difficult to detect.
Some of the interventions suggested by Pew are relatively easy. Producers should be doing them already, such as figuring out the source of water and ensuring it is clean, as well as housing livestock in well-ventilated areas. Others are more complex, like giving vaccinations or pre-treatment that may stop bacteria from thriving. But many of these vaccination and pre-treatment methods have seemed to be successful on a limited basis haven't been widely tested.
The study calls for more funding and more collaboration, two things that will help bring small-scale research to a point where solutions can be found. Other countries have worked diligently to reduce bacteria prevalence in their animals. Pew said efforts in Scandinavia that started back in 1970 have brought the incidence of salmonella in poultry down to less than one percent. A separate report found that while Finland's program was seven times more costly than the larger European Union safety directive, the reduction of salmonella cases generated 33 times more savings in public health costs.
In the current political climate, it's unclear what kinds of funding and grant opportunities will be available to producers. While many of the federal government's top food safety regulators were optimistic earlier this year about how the Trump administration will approach food safety, proposed budget cuts may make it difficult for many new initiatives to make it through. However, Alfred Almanza, administrator of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in May he was confident that Secretary Sonny Perdue's background as a veterinarian meant good things for the future of food safety. Time will tell if Trump's budget and Perdue's prerogative can make that happen.