Government considers not naming retailers in meat recalls
WASHINGTON (AP) ” Under pressure from the food industry, the Agriculture Department is considering a proposal not to identify retailers where tainted meat went for sale except in cases of serious health risk, The Associated Press has learned.
Had that been the rule in place last month, consumers would not have been told if their supermarkets sold meat from a Southern California slaughterhouse that triggered the biggest beef recall in U.S. history.
The plan is being considered as the USDA puts the final touches on a proposed disclosure rule. It had lingered in draft form for two years until February, when 143 million pounds of beef were recalled by Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif., after undercover video by an animal-rights activist showed workers abusing crippled cows.
Agriculture Department spokesman Chris Connelly confirmed Wednesday that the agency is weighing whether to make naming the stores mandatory only for so-called “Class I” recalls, which pose the greatest health hazard.
The Chino recall was categorized as “Class II” because authorities determined there was minimal risk to human health.
Currently, the government discloses only a recall itself. It does not list which retailers might have received recalled meat. The same holds true for recalled vegetables.
Consumer groups and Democratic lawmakers contended that the public should have access to the names of retailers in all recalls. As originally written, the rule would have applied to all recalls.
“It’s unacceptable to us because of the way the rule was originally fashioned, and we have an immediate example of the Hallmark case being exempted,” said Tony Corbo of Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.
At an appearance in Sacramento, Calif., earlier tive reasons, industry groups support the way recalls are currently done, where a description of the recalled product is released by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service along with some other information including where it was produced.
Retailers must remove recalled meat from their shelves but there’s no requirement that they notify their customers about meat already sold, though some take voluntary steps to do so.
Consumers may be able to identify prepackaged foods like hot dogs that the Agriculture Department mentions by brand name.