WASHINGTON – The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture rejected a petition by the  Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to require meat and poultry processors test products for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and make the findings public, among other actions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

PCRM, a non-profit organization that promotes plant-based diets and other actions related to animal welfare, launched the petition in May requesting FSIS:

  • Require that all meat and poultry processing establishments test their products for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and make their findings available to the public.
  • Require all meat and poultry processing establishments report to local public health authorities, on a weekly basis, the number of workers and the number of their family members with presumptive or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and those dying of COVID-19.
  • Post the number of FSIS inspectors with presumptive or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and those dying of COVID- 19 to the USDA website on a weekly basis.
  • Amend its labeling regulations to require that the safe handling statement on the labeling of all meat and poultry products bear the following statement: “Warning: Workers in the US meat and poultry processing facilitates have been sickened or killed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and this product has not been certified virus-free.”
  • Publish, and distribute to all major retail facilities, notices bearing the warning statement requested above to be placed at check-out counters.

FSIS denied the petition because PCRM did not include scientific studies or other evidence demonstrating the COVID-19 can be transmitted to humans by meat or poultry.

“In addition, some of the actions you are requesting are outside the scope of FSIS’s authority,” said Rachel Edelstein, assistant administrator, Office of Policy and Program Development, in a response to the petition. “The actions requested in your petition would not contribute to FSIS’s public health mission to ensure that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged.”

In June, both USDA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reaffirmed there is no evidence that COVID-19 is a food safety problem after the Chinese government banned poultry products from Tyson Foods’ Springdale, Ark., plant due to concerns about the virus.

Edelstein called the warning statement requested in PCRM petition misleading because it inaccurately implies that meat and poultry products that have not been “certified as virus-free” may transmit COVID-19 or are somehow unsafe.

“...public health and food safety experts have found no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with meat or poultry products,” Edelstein said. “Thus, we are denying your request to amend the safe handling labeling regulations because we believe the requested warning statement would cause meat and poultry products to be misbranded.”