The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is being sued by a nonprofit organization of doctors that has claimed the government agency doesn’t properly regulate fecal contamination in meat and chicken production.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed the suit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., USA Today reported.
“Although USDA implements a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for fecal contamination, this policy applies to visible fecal contamination only,” the lawsuit claims. “The result is that fecally contaminated meat and chicken products pass inspection as long as the feces on them are not visible to the naked eye.”
The Physicians Committee, which has 12,000 members with a mission of “saving and improving human and animal lives through plant-based diets and ethical and effective scientific research,” petitioned the USDA back in 2013 about the agency’s fecal contamination regulations.
The organization argued in its 2013 petition that the USDA’s fecal contamination regulations aren’t sufficient. It also proposed the agency should label inspected meat and poultry with the warning: “May contain feces.”
The petition came after the organization did a study in 2011 that allegedly found fecal matter in 48 percent of the poultry products they analyzed from 10 U.S. cities, according to USA Today.
The current lawsuit is asking for a “substantive response” to the petition and alleges that the situation has gotten worse since the 2011 study, the outlet reports.
However, USDA said it “disagrees with the underlying assumption that meat and poultry products bearing the mark of inspection are likely to be contaminated with feces,” The Washington Post reported.
Officials with the government agency told the outlet that pathogen testing also occurs to avoid fecal contamination that isn’t visible to the human eye. The agency also said other pathogens can be killed by cooking meat properly.
According to information from the North American Meat Institute, bacteria on raw products is normal and doesn’t automatically mean the product is contaminated by fecal matter. It claims that “all bacteria, whether pathogenic or not, are destroyed by cooking.”