Meat Recalls to Name Retailers

By Molly Seltzer
Bloomberg News
Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Department of Agriculture will change its policy and begin to identify retailers who have received recalled meat, but only in cases that pose the most serious health threat.

The information will be provided only in Class I recalls, those of "most serious concern to public health," Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said. The rule will take effect in August, 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

"People want to know if they need to be on the lookout for recalled meat and poultry from their local stores," Schafer said. Listing the outlets "will improve public health protection by better informing consumers."

The USDA came under criticism earlier this year for refusing to name retail outlets and schools that received ground beef recalled by Westland/Hallmark Meat, citing privacy concerns. That recall, involving 143 million pounds, was the biggest in U.S. history.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the USDA proposal does not go far enough and would not have applied to the Westland/Hallmark case, which was a Class II recall.

In Class II recalls, there is only a "remote possibility" that the meat poses a health risk to consumers, said Richard Raymond, the department's undersecretary for food safety. A Class I recall applies when there is a "good likelihood" that a consumer will become ill or die if tainted food is eaten, he said.

"I am very disappointed that this new rule would apply only to Class I recalls," DeLauro, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, said in a statement. "The next step should be to apply this rule to all recalls."

Westland/Hallmark called back about two years of ground beef production in February after the release of an undercover video showed employees using electric prods to get lame cattle back on their feet. The video suggested that sick animals may have bypassed required health inspections before being slaughtered.

"If it would have been a public threat, we would have done a Class I recall," Schafer said.

Food companies are concerned that connecting retailers to tainted meat could mar the reputation of stores that aren't selling unsafe products.

"Listing hundreds or even thousands of retailers that may -- or may not -- carry the recalled products does not provide consumers with sufficient information to remove recalled products from their homes," the Food Marketing Institute, which represents about 26,000 retail food stores, said in a statement.

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