This week, medical group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the removal of fecal matter from meat products. Currently, the USDA prohibits visible fecal matter on meat, stating it can be removed during the trimming process. PCRM—which is comprised of 12,000 medical professionals who advocate for a plant-based diet—contends that fecal matter is currently present in meat products that are available to the consumer. The new lawsuit is a measure to compel the USDA to act on a petition PCRM filed in 2013 after conducting independent tests on 120 chicken products sold in 15 supermarkets across 10 cities—48 percent of which contained fecal matter. “We often see birds going down the line with intestines still attached, which are full of fecal contamination,” a federal inspector is quoted saying in the lawsuit. “If there is no fecal contamination on the bird’s skin, however, we can do nothing to stop that bird from going down that line. It is more than reasonable to assume that once the bird gets into the chill tank (a large vat of cold water), that contamination will enter the water and contaminate all of the other carcasses in the chiller. That’s why it is sometimes called ‘fecal soup.’” The lawsuit demands that the USDA remove labels that tout the term “wholesome” from packaged meat and, because contamination is “common and even expected,” according to the lawsuit, replace it with messaging that warns the consumer of possible fecal contamination. “USDA misleads consumers every time inspectors slap a ‘wholesome’ label on contaminated food,” Deborah Dubow Press, associate general counsel for PCRM, who authored the lawsuit, said. “Consumers should be horrified to know that USDA’s standard for wholesomeness is ‘no visible feces.’” On Friday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention linked ground beef to the E. coli outbreak that sickened 109 people across six states. E. coli is only found in fecal matter.

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