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Protect public from tainted meat

Legislation before the Senate would restore teeth to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ability to protect the public from tainted meat. Just because the administration and regulators have been cowed by special interests, Congress does not have to follow suit. It should pass the bill to bolster USDA's enforcement authority and restore credibility to its ubiquitous "inspected and passed" sticker.

A recent federal court decision stripped the agency of its ability to close down ground beef plants that repeatedly fail to meet standards for controlling salmonella bacteria. The ruling also stated that USDA could not withhold its seal of approval from meat infected with the bacteria, which sickens nearly 1.4-million Americans annually and kills about 600. According to the courts, if cooked properly, the meat was not a threat to health. The administration chose neither to appeal the ruling nor back the bill restoring the Agriculture Department's authority.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, seeks to correct this egregious violation of consumers' trust. The executive and legislative branches have already betrayed meat customers. By choosing the powerful meat processors over the public interest the government has recklessly endangered the health of older adults, children and people with impaired immune systems. It's time for Congress to demand that the USDA do its job and reassure American consumers that their next burger won't be their last.