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Schwarzenegger signs bill that ends secrecy about meat recalls

Oct. 2, 2006

Law Targets State’s Secrecy Agreement With USDA That Has Kept Consumers In the Dark About Contaminated Beef and Poultry

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill, SB 611 (Speier), that allows California public health officers to notify the public of the names of retailers that receive USDA-recalled meat and poultry, so that consumers can better protect themselves from food-borne illnesses.
In 2002, California’s Department of Health Services (DHS) signed a secrecy agreement with USDA, agreeing not to release the names of the stores and restaurants where tainted, USDA-recalled beef and poultry have been shipped and sold. Federal and California state agencies maintain that secrecy is necessary in order to protect the proprietary interests of the beef and poultry industries. But eighty percent of Californians believe that the public should be told the names of retail stores and restaurants that receive and sell potentially contaminated, USDA-recalled beef and poultry, according to a 2006 Field Research Corporation survey. Greater than eight in ten Californians (84%) favor mandatory recalls when unacceptable levels of contaminants are found in beef and poultry products, compared to just 11% who favor the current system of voluntary company recalls.
“Most Californians want meat producers to be required to come forward when they suspect contamination of their products. And most Californians don’t want to be left in the dark about which stores and restaurants are selling tainted meat. By signing this bill, the Governor has shown his commitment to protecting the health of California families and the safety of the food supply.” said Elisa Odabashian, Director of Consumers Union’s West Coast Office.
In 2004, 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 the first U.S. cow that tested positive for mad cow disease (the country’s third confirmed case of mad cow disease was discovered on March 10, 2006 in Alabama). But California consumers had no way of knowing which grocery stores and restaurants received the products because the state had agreed with the USDA to keep that information secret. The state’s secrecy agreement covers all recalls of unsafe beef and poultry—not just those that involve mad cow disease. The names of retailers selling recalled beef and poultry products tainted with other hazards, such as E. coli and listeria, are also kept secret from the public under the current agreement.
“The Field survey shows what we’ve suspected all along: Californians want to know whether the meat and poultry they are buying could be hazardous to their health. Common sense dictates that consumers should have a right to this information,” Odabashian said. “The state’s secrecy agreement with the USDA protects the beef and poultry industry while putting California consumers at risk.”
“Governor Schwarzenegger’s enactment of this law is in line with the Field survey’s numbers that show a large majority of Californians, across the geographic, socio-economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and political spectrum, wanting to know which retail stores and restaurants receive shipments of recalled beef or poultry products,” said Odabashian. “Californians can now be assured that, at least in this state, the government agencies charged with protecting them from food-borne illnesses are not keeping secrets that could kill them or their family members.”

Elisa Odabashian
415-431-6747 or 415-572-0036