WASHINGTON (B)--A coalition of groups representing U.S. meat and poultry processors is calling on United States Department of Agriculture to formulate new standards for salmonella testing following a ruling by a federal judge in Texas that USDA's salmonella sampling procedures overstepped the bounds of current law.

"It is clear from (the) ruling that USDA's salmonella performance standard is flawed," read the statement. "We strongly recommend that USDA immediately convene all interested parties...to determine how a scientifically based standard could be designed for maximum foods safety benefit."

The ruling by Dallas Federal Judge A. Joe Fish in a case brought by Supreme Beef against USDA "does not impact USDA's decades-old legal authority to take regulatory action against meat and poultry firms," nor does it alter the applicability of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) meat inspection system, according to the groups.

One of the arguments used by Supreme Beef in its case against USDA, brought in November 1999, is that the agency's salmonella standards are too broad and do not take into consideration greater bacterial growth in the warmer climate of southern states like Texas.

The groups reiterated their support for "microbiological sampling" of both meat and the meat processing plants to "verify compliance with HACCP requirements."

"We strongly support the HACCP-based inspection system and will work to ensure its continued success," the statement said.

According to Julie Quick, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the ruling could very end up strengthen the HACCP system, although she added that NCBA is "still looking at all of the ruling's impacts."

HACCP is designed to ensure that the procedures used to slaughter and process meat are as free as contamination as possible through regular inspection of plant facilities and sampling of final products. HACCP was designed to replace a meat inspection system based solely on visual carcass evaluation known as "poke and sniff."

Supporting the call are the American Meat Institute, the American Association of Meat Processors, the Eastern Meat Packers Association, Food Distributors International, Grocery Manufacturers of America, National Chicken Council, National Food Processors Association, National Meat Association, National Turkey Association, North American Meat Processors Association, Southeastern Meat Association and the Southwest Meat Association.

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