The USDA has announced that the March deadline for companies to begin testing for six additional strains of the E. coli bacteria has been pushed back to June 4, reports Bloomberg news. The extension is to allow meatpackers to ensure that their methods work, the agency said.

Since the USDA announced that six strains of E. coli beyond the O157:H7 strain will be banned, the meat industry has fought against the regulation. The industry has claimed there is no proof that the additional testing will prevent illnesses and outbreaks, and that the costs for the expanded testing could be as much as $300 million per year. U.S. trading partners, including Australia and Canada, have said that it will increase the price of exports to the U.S.

“The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) decision to delay for 90 days implementing a policy that regulates non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in certain beef products is a good first step,” said AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges. “As we have maintained since the initial announcement by FSIS, this new policy is not supported by science and likely will not benefit public health. Indeed, USDA’s own actions suggest that this policy should be delayed even longer, as evidenced by the recent announcement of a five-year $25 million dollar USDA grant to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study STEC in beef and provide some of the detailed research regarding analyzing the risks of STEC in the beef supply and developing validated test methods.

“Even with a 90 day delay, imposing this new regulatory program in June puts the cart before the horse and will needlessly cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars – costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers,” he adds. “In short, the policy is not likely to yield a significant public health benefit and given that research should precede and dictate the policy, the process that FSIS has followed in this matter is no way to develop good public policy.”

Source: Bloomberg, AMI