Chances are higher today than they were just a few years ago that the chicken you buy will be contaminated with the bacteria salmonella. But the government hasn’t been doing much about the situation because it lacks the authority.

Critics of government policy say there is a link between the lack of government action and the 80 percent increase in the number of chickens contaminated with salmonella since 2000. Richard Raymond, the undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, recently testified before Congress on an annual administration appropriations and the agency’s proposed new initiative to reduce salmonella in chicken.

Last year, the government said that 16.3 percent of all chickens were contaminated with salmonella. The New York Times reports the level of salmonella-infected chickens was as high as 20 percent in the 1990s, and dropped to 9.1 percent in 2000.

The chicken industry denies any connection between the lack of enforcement and the increase in contamination rates, but it agrees that salmonella levels have been going in the wrong direction. In the last month, the USDA has announced a more concentrated testing program that it hopes will bring down levels of salmonella.

Originally the program included the threat that companies consistently failing to meet agency standards would be placed on a list to be made public. That threat has been removed, but Raymond said the possibility of a list will be reexamined in a year.