Worst Company in America?

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By Consumers Union on Friday, May 2nd, 2008


It’s not surprising the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company is nominated as the “Worst Company in America” by readers of The Consumerist. They’re the company who gave us the largest beef recall in history after undercover videotape showed workers pushing sick “downer” cows in for slaughter and processing.
But I’m thinking the USDA should get a nod of its own in a special “worst” category for keeping secret the names of retailers who are supplied recalled beef. Or in the case of the Hallmark/Westland recall, the countless schools throughout the nation that likely fed the suspect beef to our children.
This bizarre USDA secrecy policy first got the public’s attention in December 2003, when the agency took several months to update consumers about the amount of recalled beef linked to a possible case of mad cow disease in the U.S. In addition to the foot dragging, the agency never told consumers which stores may have been selling the suspect meat.
In response to USDA secrecy, California passed a law in 2006 that allowed state health officials to disclose recall information to the public. The Hallmark/Westland recall put this California law to the test; California health authorities posted a partial list of California retailers of recalled meat consumers could access. But this meat was shipped across the country, so consumers outside of California were left in the dark. That’s why a coalition of groups, including Consumers Union, supports a rule change that would require the USDA to disclose the names of retailers involved in meat recalls. Tell your lawmakers to put an end to recall secrecy!
Not surprising again — industry lobbyists don’t want you to have more information about recalls. The Wall Street Journal reported that industry reps were pressuring the USDA to narrow the scope of the Hallmark/Westland recall. And their efforts may have gone further. “The main impediment has been the White House Office of Management and Budget which is responsible for clearing major regulation changes. The food industry has effectively lobbied OMB thus far to prevent the implementation of this rule,” said Tony Corbo from Food & Water Watch.
As for the race for the Worst Company in America, Hallmark/Westland currently leads by a small margin over News Corp (Rupert Murdoch’s media behometh – but that’s another blog). Wonder what the tally would be if we could get the USDA and the Administration in the vote?

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