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Schwarzenegger fails to end secrecy over tainted meat recalls

September 30, 2004
Elisa Odabashian – 415-572-0036 (cell)

California Fails to Protect Citizens from Contaminated Beef and Poultry Recalls
Schwarzenegger vetoes bill to that would have ended secrecy agreement with USDA on sale of tainted food

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – California missed a golden opportunity to protect its citizens from the sale of contaminated beef and poultry when Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill today that would have thwarted a secrecy agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of California that keeps the public in the dark about the sale of hazardous foods.
The beef and poultry industry lobbied heavily against passage of the legislation.
Introduced by Senators Jackie Speier and Mike Machado, SB 1585 required all beef and poultry product suppliers, distributors and processors in California who sell meat subject to a USDA recall to immediately identify to the state the names and locations of retailers that received the contaminated products. The bill authorized the California Department of Health Services to provide this information to local health officials, and required local health officials to alert the public.
“We’re disappointed that Governor Schwarzenegger caved in to the pressure of the meat and poultry industry lobby on such an urgent matter of public safety as this,” said Elisa Odabashian, Senior Policy Analyst with Consumers Union’s West Coast Office.
“Most consumers assume the government will look after their safety if it knows of a hazardous food that could end up at their dinner table. That is not the case in California today.”
In 2002, California’s Department of Health Services signed an agreement with the USDA to keep secret the names of the retail outlets selling food subject to beef and poultry recalls. The USDA shares information about retailers that have received tainted beef and poultry only with states that sign such agreements. Only 11 states signed these agreements with the USDA, including California.
“We believe the proprietary interests of the beef and poultry industries should never be placed ahead of the public’s safety,” Odabashian said.
Earlier this year, California was one of seven states that received a shipment of beef products subject to a USDA recall because it included meat and bones from a cow that tested positive for mad cow disease. But California consumers had no way of knowing whether their local grocery store or restaurant received any of these tainted products because the state had agreed to keep that information secret.
The DHS-USDA agreement requiring secrecy covers all recalls of unsafe beef and poultry—not just this year’s recall of beef that tested positive for mad cow disease. Recalls of beef and poultry products tainted with other hazards, such as E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, also would be covered by the secrecy agreement. Furthermore, the agreement prohibits public notification in any circumstance—no matter the degree, nature, or seriousness of the outbreak.
Consumers Union is urging the federal government to vastly expand its testing program for mad cow disease, fully ban the feeding of all animal remains to cows, and immediately disclose to states and the public all retail outlets and restaurants from which meat was recalled because it was contaminated or came from an infected cow.
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