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  • New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef

    By Ramona du Houx

    New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said the regulations, she pushed for, will help track food-borne illnesses like the antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Hannaford Supermarkets in 2011. 

    "I'm glad USDA has issued these rules that will make it mandatory for retailers to keep track of where the beef they are grinding is coming from—this is something we have been pushing hard for and I'm glad regulators have agreed it's necessary.  As we learned the hard way, the voluntary guidelines that have been in place were just not sufficient when contaminated ground beef ended up in the grocery store," said Pingree.

    The Congresswoman had pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to toughen up requirements for retailers to keep careful records of the sources of meat used to produce ground beef in their butcher shops. 

    Pingree, who sits on the committee that oversees the USDA's budget, had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushing for better record keeping to allow quick tracing of food-born illnesses related to tainted ground beef.

    Pingree said while the record keeping will help find the source of illnesses from ground beef, the increased use of antibiotics in animal feed continues to put consumers at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

    "The particular strain of Salmonella found in the 2011 outbreak was drug resistant, something we are seeing more and more often," said Pingree. "The use of human antibiotics in animal feed has become more and more common and it's leading to new strains of infections that no longer respond to the antibiotics we have.  It's a pretty scary problem."

    The Salmonella linked to the outbreak four years ago was multi-drug resistant.  Although the infections traced to the ground beef responded to some drugs, a number of antibiotics normally used to treat Salmonella proved ineffective with that strain. 

    The incidence of drug resistant infections in farm animals has been on the increase since large-scale cattle, hog and chicken growers started adding antibiotics to feed.  The antibiotics help ward off some of the disease that comes when animals are packed into tighter quarters and fed lower quality feed.  But when antibiotics are given to animals on a daily basis, it doesn’t take long for new, drug-resistant forms of the disease to emerge.

    Pingree is a sponsor of a bill banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed unless they are medically necessary and has pushed federal officials to limit their use.