WASHINGTON – The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture denied a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) petition calling for the agency to declare and regulate feces on poultry as an adulterant.

The PCRM requested in its petition and an addendum that FSIS:

  • declare and regulate feces as an adulterant;
  • amend FSIS regulations that prescribe mandatory safe handling statements and to require that all meat and
  • poultry product labels uniformly disclose the presence of feces; and
  • amend the FSIS regulations...to remove the word “wholesome” from the official inspection legend for poultry and include an explicit warning that the product may contain feces.

“We have decided to deny your petition because we disagree with the petition's underlying assumption that meat and poultry products bearing the mark of inspection are likely to be contaminated with feces,” FSIS said in its final response to the petition. “We also have determined that the labeling changes you are requesting are inconsistent with the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) and would result in labeling of meat and poultry products that is misleading to consumers.”

In April, the PCRM sued the US Dept. of Agriculture for “…ignoring concerns over fecal contamination of chicken and other meat.”

“Since the agency is dodging its responsibility, consumers should protect themselves from fecal contamination by avoiding chicken and other meat products,” said Deborah Dubow Press, associate general counsel for Physicians Committee.

The PCRM based its petition on a number of studies the organization says supports its conclusion that the presence of intestinal bacteria, such as E. coli, on a product also means that fecal material is present. FSIS disagreed with the PCRM’s characterization, saying, “…Although feces may contain intestinal bacteria, the presence of generic E. coli or other bacteria on a product does not mean that the product is also contaminated with fecal material…fecal contamination is a visible defect that can be removed by trimming or reprocessing. Thus, there is a difference between fecal contamination and the presence of bacteria on a product. The presence of E.coli and other enteric bacteria on meat or poultry products indicates that the bacteria is likely associated with the intestinal tract. It does not mean that the product tested positive for “feces” or “fecal bacteria” as stated in your petition.”

FSIS also disagreed that poultry labels that do not disclose the potential presence of fecal material on meat and poultry are false and misleading to consumers.

“First, we reject the petition’s underlying assumption that meat and poultry products that bear the mark of inspection are likely to be contaminated with feces,” FSIS said. “…fecal contamination is a visible food safety defect that can be removed by reprocessing or trimming. Although fecal material may contain pathogens and other bacteria that cannot be detected by visual examination, the fecal material itself can be visually detected and removed. In addition, under the existing regulations, establishments must take action to prevent fecal contamination before it occurs and take action to control any incidental contamination that may occur during slaughter.”

FSIS also countered the PCRM's assertion that the agency has regulatory discretion to change the text of the poultry inspection legend to state the product is unwholesome. The agency explained that the PPIA states that the official inspection legends means the item was inspected for wholesomeness.

“A statement that warns that a product “may contain feces” as requested in your petition is inconsistent with the PPIA and would be misleading to consumers because it suggests that the product may be unwholesome,” FSIS said.