USDA Needs Mandatory Recall Authority, Says CSPI
Feds Shouldn’t Bar States from Disclosing Stores & Restaurants Receiving Tainted Meat
January 7, 2004
Food-safety advocates say the Department of Agriculture (USDA) should be able to issue mandatory recalls of tainted meat, rather than having to rely on the meat industry’s voluntary compliance with recall requests from USDA or states. And according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the USDA should allow states to publicize the stores or restaurants where potentially contaminated meat products have been distributed and sold. Currently USDA only gives state health officials that information if they promise not to publicize it.
“Because USDA places gag orders on state health officials, consumers are kept totally in the dark as to where potentially contaminated meat has been shipped,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “USDA should be less interested in protecting the meat industry and more interested in protecting consumers. The least the agency could do is to stay out of the state’s way when the state wants to give consumers information about meat recalls.”
According to published reports, health officials in California were barred from publicly identifying restaurants that purchased beef products from the facility that distributed meat from the cow that tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalophy (BSE), or “mad cow” disease.
CSPI called on Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to seek mandatory recall authority from Congress—and to let state health departments make recall information public.
“Given what we know, the health risks from BSE are very small, but nevertheless, who wouldn’t want to know if the meat in their freezer is coming from the same source as the infected cow?” DeWaal said. “In the case of E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks, the health risks are much higher, yet state health officials have been similarly undercut by USDA.”
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) are amond the sponsors of the Safe and Fair Enforcement and Recall for Meat, Poultry and Food Act (SAFER), which would give USDA mandatory recall authority.