Schwarzenegger Vetoes Meat Recall Disclosure Bill


Legislation Would Have Identified Stores that Received Contaminated Meat and Poultry

October 1, 2004

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) vetoed a bill yesterday that would have let Californians know whether they’ve purchased contaminated meat or poultry. The bill, SB 1585, would have ended a secrecy agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and California that prevents the state from disclosing the names and locations of stores that receive shipments of recalled meat.

“Consumers have a right to know if they purchased recalled meat or poultry,” said Ken Kelly, Staff Attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “Why force families to roll the dice when they put food on the table? Governor Schwarzenegger prefers a get-sick-first, ask-questions-later policy.”

Earlier this year, California was one of several states that received meat from the Washington State cow that tested positive for mad cow disease. But because California is one of 12 states that have signed a secrecy agreement with USDA, state health officials were prohibited from identifying stores or restaurants that may have received beef from the infected cow. Even recalled meat tainted with deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria would be subject to the secrecy agreement, leaving consumers uncertain as to whether the ground beef in their refrigerator were safe to eat.

In his veto message, Governor Schwarzenegger indicated he would instruct the state’s health department to renegotiate an agreement that would allow USDA to share recall information with local public health officials. But according to CSPI, even if USDA agreed to share recall information with local officials, the local officials would be similarly prohibited from disclosing names of retail outlets with consumers. In August, CSPI urged USDA not to force states to sign any such secrecy agreements.

“Federal and state government should be more concerned with protecting consumers from unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths associated with food-borne illness, and less concerned with protecting grocers and meat producers from bad publicity,” Kelly said.

 

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