WASHINGTON – US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced food safety legislation that would maintain current staffing levels of US Department of Agriculture meat and poultry inspectors at the same time the agency is working to downsize its federal inspectors.

Sen. Gillibrand, who is chairwoman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Poultry Marketing and Agriculture Security, said the Safe Meat and Poultry Act also would give USDA more enforcement power, including the power to shut down companies that repeatedly fail food safety tests.

“As I cook dinner for my family most nights, I want to know what I am serving is safe for my children to eat,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “This legislation contains practical measures to ensure no American gambles with their health when purchasing poultry or meat products. Not only would we reduce foodborne illness, but we also strengthen our nation’s agriculture and food industry.”

The bill also includes provisions that would create mandatory pathogen reduction standards and expand USDA's authority to regulate new pathogens; regular international audits by the Food Safety and Inspection Service; and whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public health issues.

The Safe Meat and Poultry Act follows a report from the Government Accounting Office that found the USDA used old data to support its plant to change pork and poultry inspection procedures. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand requested the GAO report. She has been critical of USDA's plan that would allow poultry processing plants to increase line speeds and replace some government inspectors with company employees.