Group sues USDA, claiming there’s poo on your chicken

Photo: krblokhin (iStock)

Fair warning: This will not be the most appetizing food story you read all day. I’m sorry its publication time coincides with your lunch hour, and if you’ve packed chicken salad today, perhaps you’ll want to bookmark this article for later.

Now then, to the poo news. A nonprofit activist group with 12,000 physician members has sued the U.S. Department Of Agriculture for failing to adequately respond to its concerns over fecal matter present on chicken meat. In a press release, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced its lawsuit filed Tuesday against the USDA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The group, made up of 12,000 physician members, had petitioned the USDA in 2013 to act on its concerns about fecal contamination, but found the agency’s response unsatisfactory. It seeks a “substantive response” to that earlier petition. The release goes on to say the PCRM conducted a study in 2011 to test 120 chicken products at grocery chains in 10 cities, and found 48 percent of the chicken meat tested was positive for feces.

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Okay, I’ll give you a moment to dry heave.

And we’re back.

The USDA responded to the lawsuit, telling The Washington Post the agency conducts pathogen testing at points along the slaughtering process to prevent fecal contamination. Further, the USDA reminds consumers to use its safe-cooking guidelines to ensure pathogens and bacteria are killed off. (Raw chicken especially presents greater risk than other types of meat.)

So, PCRM says there’s feces on your chicken; USDA says there’s not. Turns out, the reason for this disparity hinges on how you define feces. Buckle up, readers. The PCRM uses the phrase “fecal bacteria,” by which it likely means strains of e. Coli. When the USDA refers to feces, it’s referring to actual fecal matter; representatives from the meat industry say e. Coli isn’t the same thing as feces.

“It’s no surprise that the pseudo-medical animal rights group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine doesn’t know the difference between fecal contamination and bacteria on meat products,” KatieRose McCullough, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute tells The Washington Post. “Bacteria like E.coli are naturally present in the environment as numerous studies on all types of items from foods to phones, keyboards and toothbrushes have shown. This does not mean any of those items are contaminated with feces.”

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The assertion that the PCRM is a “pseudo-medical animal rights group” is based on the group’s continuing advocacy for removing animals from medical research and from patients’ diets. The PCRM website states its mission thusly: “The Physicians Committee is dedicated to saving and improving human and animal lives through plant-based diets and ethical and effective scientific research.” Since its inception in 1985, the group has been no friend of the meat industry.

Whether its vegan advocacy prompted the lawsuit or not, the PCRM will now await a district court’s evaluation of its claims. Meanwhile, the UDSA continues to push back, telling the Post earlier this week the agency “disagrees with the underlying assumption that meat and poultry products bearing the mark of inspection are likely to be contaminated with feces.”

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Now, back to your regularly scheduled lunch hour.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.