May 26, 2000
Judge Questions Government’s Ability to Safeguard
The federal government’s testing program
to detect salmonella contamination in ground
beef processing plants took a major hit after
a judge ruled it does not fairly evaluate
whether a plant is sanitary.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Joe Fish
threw into doubt the federal government’s
ability to safeguard food, officials said.
Fish issued his decision on Thursday
Supreme Beef, a meat processing plant
Dallas, objected to the government’s
The federal program was designed to
that raw ground beef is safe for consumers.
The Department of Agriculture closed
Dallas plant because it failed a salmonella
contamination test three times.
Judge: USDA Went Too Far
But in his 15-page decision, Fish agreed
with the company that those tests “did
necessarily measure the actual conditions
of that plant.”
“Because the USDA performance standards
salmonella tests do not necessarily
the conditions of a meat processor’s
they cannot serve as the basis for
a plant’s meat adulterated,” the judge
“Indeed, a plant could, in theory,
sanitized from top to bottom, but if
meat in it tests positive for salmonella,
the USDA could withdraw its inspectors,
closing a plant that is sanitary,”
Moreover, the court said Supreme Beef
continue selling its ground beef all
the nation without meeting the government’s
salmonella standards. Salmonella kills
estimated 550 people and causes 1.4
illnesses annually in the United States.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
court ruling threatened the entire
system and could turn back years of
in food safety.
“I think the ruling is wrong and I
it represents a serious threat to what
trying to do at modernizing the food
system in this country,” Glickman said.
The USDA revamped its food safety program
four years ago to use more scientific
and checkpoints to monitor meat and
After Thursday’s ruling, the Clinton
vowed to appeal.
Is the Public at Risk?
Supreme Beef, a supplier of meat to
school lunch program, said the rules
“This case was not really about food
but about a bad policy,” said Steven
president of the privately owned company.
“Except for our concerns about USDA’s
enforcement policy, we have strongly
the new government food safety inspection
The Supreme Beef plant produces about
pounds of ground beef daily and supplies
many customers, including Wal-Mart
Until the court battle began in December,
the company also was a major supplier
beef to the federally subsidized school
program. The USDA halted purchases
from the company after it flunked the
“If Supreme sold meat in this area,
buy it and cook it tomorrow for the
I am cooking for a family of seven,”
Rosemary Mucklow, a spokeswoman for
Meat producers have long contended
salmonella tests are inconsistent and
But with Supreme Beef now free to sell
meat to grocery stores and the government
school lunch program, consumer groups
the public is at risk.
“Consumers may get more contaminated
beef this summer because of this ruling,”
said Caroline Smith DeWall, food safety
for the Center for Science in the Public
Supreme Beef claims no one has ever
ill from its meat in the 30 years it
been in business but Glickman says
do what it takes to force the company
meet the government standards once
ABCNEWS Mike Von Fremd and the Associated Press
contributed to this report.