* USDA now to test for "Big Six" E. coli strains-Vilsack
* Consumer, food safety groups had pushed for move
* Meat producers bemoan higher testing costs
By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON, Sept 13 The U.S. government will
test for six more strains of E. coli bacteria in raw beef,
officials announced on Tuesday, a step sought by consumer
groups but opposed by the cost-conscious meat industry.
Inspectors in March will begin testing beef trim for the
the "Big Six" bacteria strains that have caused thousands of
sicknesses each year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Consumer groups have called for the six strains to be named
adulterants alongside the single strain now banned, E. coli
0157:H7. That strain was barred from foods in the 1990s after
an outbreak at a fast-food hamburger chain.
The Agriculture Department believes non-0157 strains are
responsible for more than 112,000 illnesses per year, with more
than 36,000 attributable to beef, Vilsack said.
"One of the reasons we're doing this is because these
pathogens can survive ordinary cooking," he told reporters.
"The reason why there's a focus on food safety is because it
saves lives, it saves medical expenses and it keeps people
The American Meat Institute and other industry groups said
the measures impose additional costs on beef producers, which
could lead to higher beef prices for consumers.
Tyson Foods (TSN.N) spokesman Gary Mickelson said the
world's largest meat producer already has multiple measures in
place that prevent various forms of E. coli.
"Tyson has a comprehensive testing program in place for
O157:H7," Mickelson said. "We'll be working with our trade
associations to review and comment on the USDA's proposed
directive, which we currently believe will be much more costly
to implement than the government is projecting."
PUSHING FOR A BAN
Consumer and food-safety groups have long argued E. coli
026, 0111, 045, 0121, 0103 and 0145 should be treated the same
as the more notorious 0157:H7.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, an early proponent of food
safety reforms enacted this year, wrote to Obama administration
officials this summer calling for the strains to be barred.
Tanya Roberts, chairman of the board at the Center for
Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, said the USDA will
have the power to remove "contaminated products out of the food
chain, out of restaurants and grocery stores, and off our
plates at minimal cost...this is not only good for public
health but it is also good for business."
Vilsack said some food companies were already testing for
E. coli strains for that reason.
Costco Wholesale (COST.O) requires that some suppliers test
for several forms of the bacteria, he said.
(Editing by Russell Blinch; Editing by David Gregorio)