February 28, 2008
Consumers Union Advises California Consumers to Check List, Freezers and
Urges USDA to Release Similar Information Nationally
Yonkers, NY and San Francisco, CA—Due to a California law that was enacted last year, consumers in that state now have access to a partial list of the names of the retailers that received shipments from the largest beef recall in history—143 million pounds from Westland-Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, California. Consumers Union today urged the USDA to follow California’s lead and release this information for all 50 states.
“USDA has a policy of keeping the names of retailers of recalled meat secret, so this is a huge, long-overdue victory for California consumers,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “This recall is unprecedented in its size and the numbers of retailers involved, and California consumers now have a way of finding out ‘where’s the beef.’”
The massive beef recall, announced February 17 and covering a period of two years, involves beef that went to thousands of markets, restaurants, school, hotels, and institutions throughout the United States. In addition, some big chains like Wal-Mart and Costco have indicated that they received some of the recalled meat. A partial list of the California retailers, which is incomplete and will be updated periodically, can be found on the California Department of Public Health’s website at www.cdph.ca.gov.
Westland-Hallmark was caught on video by the Humane Society improperly processing “downer” cows—those too sick or injured to stand and walk to slaughter. USDA outlaws the use of downer cows in the food supply except when reviewed by a USDA veterinarian, as one of the symptoms of mad cow disease is an inability to stand or walk. “While most of the recalled meat has already been consumed, and while the risk of exposure to mad cow disease is low, the human form of the disease is always fatal, so it is well worth taking precautions with regards to beef that may be involved in the recall,” said Elisa Odabashian, Director of the West Coast Office of Consumers Union.
Consumers Union advises California consumers with beef in their refrigerators and freezers that was purchased prior to the February 17 recall day, to either check the partial list of retailers at www.cdph.ca.gov and return it to the retailer; confirm that the retailer of their meat did or did not received shipments of the recalled meat; or simply discard the meat. “Because mad cow disease is believed to be transmitted through certain organs and central nervous system tissue of an infected cow, consumers may want to avoid eating tripe, brain, tongue and any other central nervous system meat,” Odabashian advised.
Because of USDA’s secrecy about the retailer names, Consumers Union helped to pass a law in California in 2006 that required meat producers, distributors, brokers, and processors to notify the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) when products they have handled are subject to a USDA recall. The CDPH is authorized to share the retailer information with local health officers, who are allowed to reveal the names of the retailers to the public. Consumers Union has urged USDA to disclose national retail outlets carrying tainted beef. In March 2006, USDA proposed to change its rules and disclose the names of retailers involved in meat recalls, but has yet to take final action.
“We are delighted that the California law is starting to work and that California consumers now have some measure of power to protect themselves and their families in this huge beef recall,” said Odabashian. “But recalled meat was shipped beyond California’s borders, and because of USDA’s continuing secrecy about the names of the retailers, consumers in other states have no way of knowing if they purchased any of the recalled beef.”
Jean Halloran, 914.378.2457
Elisa Odabashian, 415.431.6747