The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—an activist group that promotes plant-based diets and ethical scientific research – filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 16, 2019, for ignoring concerns over fecal contamination of chicken and other meat.
PCRM seeks to compel USDA to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act and respond to a petition the it submitted in 2013 requesting the agency regulate feces as an adulterant under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.
The group said a study it conducted in 2011 tested 120 chicken products sold by 15 grocery store chains in 10 U.S. cities for the presence of fecal bacteria. Forty-eight percent of the products tested positive for feces. PCRM said in a statement the petition argues that the public deserves fair notice that food products deemed wholesome by USDA are actually adulterated under a reasonable reading of federal law.
The lawsuit also claims that USDA violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to a 2017 request seeking documentation of fecal contamination rates detected in poultry slaughter plants and other data related to poultry inspection and slaughter line speed.
While PCRM’s 2011 study focused on chicken products, its current lawsuit has also brought scrutiny to all federally inspected meat products. PCRM says it wants meat labels to warn consumers that those products “may contain feces.”
That recommendation is tongue-in-cheek, Deborah Press, an attorney for the PCRM told CNN, but she said USDA’s current inspection policy doesn’t aptly prevent fecal contamination.
USDA says it has a "zero tolerance policy for fecal material on meat and poultry," and its inspectors look at “statistically valid sample of carcasses randomly selected throughout the production shift."
In 2013, PCRM sent a petition to USDA asking for it to change its rules regarding fecal contamination, and to remove the word "wholesome" from the way it labels and categorizes food that's past inspection. Press said the term “wholesome” misleads the public. USDA didn’t respond to the petition.