CSPI Announces the "Where's the Beef?" Campaign


August 5, 2004

In a letter to Secretary Ann Veneman, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) announced its “Where's the Beef?” campaign, to urge the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to disclose distribution records for recalled meat so consumers could find out if meat they recently purchased was part of the recall. CSPI requested that USDA disclose information to the public naming the stores that sold recalled meat and poultry and the date(s) of sale. This information would better equip consumers with needed information to ensure their safety and the safety of their families.

“Consumers really need to know ‘where’s the beef?’, when USDA issues a recall notice,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at CSPI. “It isn't enough to name the meat processor and production dates, as that information is rarely on ground beef that is offered for sale by grocery stores. Consumers want information on where and when the meat was sold, so they can tell if meat currently in their refrigerator or freezer could endanger their families.”

Two days ago, USDA issued a nationwide recall notice for nearly 500,000 pounds of ground beef distributed in at least 10 states. Five people in Minnesota and Wisconsin had become ill from the deadly bacterium E. coli O157:H7 after consuming the meat. The recall notice only includes limited information, including the producer’s name, production dates, and packaging code information. However, ground beef is frequently repackaged at the stores where it is purchased, so that identifying information is lost.

“Today we are filing a Freedom of Information Act request with USDA for distribution records for the recalled meat produced by Carneco Foods, LLC,” CSPI's letter to Secretary Veneman states. “We hope USDA will change its policy and give consumers the information they need to protect their families.”

Several years ago, USDA started to require state health officials that sought distribution records from USDA to agree not to release distribution information to consumers. USDA's policy is designed to protect business records of the meat producers. So far, approximately 10 states have signed such agreements.

With thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses every year from contaminated meat and poultry, the risk to the public outweighs a company’s desire for secrecy.” said DeWaal. “USDA should change its policy and stop forcing gag orders on state health officials.”

 

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