WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give the Agriculture Department more control over meat and poultry inspection and would require processors to test their products for harmful bacteria.
The measure would for the first time require the USDA to find out at what levels contaminants, such as salmonella, in raw meat and poultry pose a public health threat, just as the government does now for pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables. Products that exceed specified levels could not be sold.
The plan also would give the USDA authority to recall adulterated products, establish a system to trace contaminated meat and poultry back to the farm and impose civil penalties on processors who violate the rules.
The plan does not change the way USDA inspectors do their jobs. Currently, inspectors rely on sight, smell and touch to examine each carcass, even though the bacteria that make people sick cannot be detected that way. Later this fall, the department plans to announce an initiative that would give inspectors new responsibilities to ensure that plants identify and eliminate sources of contamination.