July 11, 2008
Washington, DC – Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, praised a decision announced today by US Secretary of Agriculture Ed Shafer to disclose the stores that received recalled meat when USDA announces a Class I recall. A Class I recall is one where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.
“We’re pleased that USDA will not longer keep consumers in the dark about recalled meat,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. Up until now, when USDA announced a recall of contaminated meat, it would only tell the public the states where the product was distributed. The specific names and locations of stores that got the product–the information that can actually help the consumer– were kept confidential.
“Now when there is a recall, consumers will know if their supermarket carried the tainted meat. Consumers will know to check what they might have in the refrigerator and get rid of it if it is part of a recall. This is a change that can give consumers peace of mind, and in certain cases avoid serious illness and even save lives,” said Halloran. A particularly dangerous form of e coli bacteria in meat and vegetables causes an estimated 73,000 illnesses and 60 deaths a year, according to the Center for Disease Control. On July 3 a Nebraska firm recalled 5.3 million pounds of beef because of potential e coli contamination.
Consumers Union expressed concern about several deficiencies in the rule however. The rule change did not extend to Class II recalls. The recent recall of 143 million pounds of beef from the Hallmark/Westland facility in California, which was prompted by video showing cows to sick to stand being illegally forced into the slaughterhouse, was a Class II recall. “All meat recalls that could affect health should be disclosed to the consumer including the information on the names and locations of stores involved,” Halloran said. A California law, sponsored by Consumers Union, requires such broad disclosure, and following the Hallmark/Westland recall, the names and locations of several thousand California stores that had sold the recalled meat were posted on a state website.
“We are also concerned that USDA has chosen not to list institutions such as schools and nursing homes that have been shipped recalled products,” Halloran commented. “People want to know if their children or elderly parents might be getting a potentially dangerous food product and can help bring attention to the need for action on a recall at these institutions. We hope USDA can add such disclosure to its rules in the future.”
Jennifer Fuson 202-462-6262
Jean Halloran 646-932-9768