Meat and poultry: What you don’t know could harm you

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May 26, 2005

USDA should pursue meat disclosure rule without delay

Consumers Union is urging a little-known division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to follow through with a proposal that would allow consumers to know where contaminated meat and poultry is being sold at the retail level.
The rule proposed by the Food and Safety Inspection Service, a division of USDA, would require potentially life-saving information on recalled meat and poultry to be shared with the public. This would give consumers a heads up on which grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets the contaminated meat and poultry is being sold.
Responding to public outcry, FSIS originally submitted the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget to be published for public review. However, the rule was withdrawn on April 29 for unknown reasons.
“They had it right the first time and we urge them to follow through with it,” said Reggie James, campaign director for www.NotinMyFood.org, a project of Consumers Union. “The status quo is both unacceptable and dangerous, considering that most meat and poultry recalled by the government due to contamination is actually sold and eaten.”
James said the rule is particularly important considering the USDA currently does not have mandatory recall authority on tainted meat. Therefore, the public’s health is compromised by producers or processors who do not voluntarily come forth when their meat is contaminated with the likes of E. coli, listeria, or mad cow disease.
Making matters worse, the USDA, an agency charged with protecting the safety of the food supply, has signed agreement with 12 states to keep the names of retailers that that sell recalled meat a secret.
The policy already has had serious consequences. On December 2003, a cow infected with mad cow disease was found in Washington State and the infected meat entered the food supply, mixed with 37,000 pounds of meat from other cows. It was sold in six western states, including California. Since California was one of 12 states that signed a secrecy agreement with the USDA, officials there were given the names of the retailers that were selling recalled meat. But local health officials in California were not allowed to let the public know the names of the retailers, so consumers were left in the dark, unable to protect themselves from buying and ingesting contaminated meat.
Click here to urge the FSIS to resubmit the rule as promptly as possible to help preserve the integrity and the safety of the meat and poultry sold in the U.S.
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by Rafael Ayuso for Consumers Union.org
rayuso@consumer.org